On November 7, 2017, the social media platform, Twitter increased its character limit for “tweets” from 140 to 280 characters. While many people are taking advantage of the increase, some people are upset about it and claim it defies the website’s initial goal: brevity and readability.
With the increase in characters comes a “Read More” option on longer tweets that allows the user to expand the tweet if it does go over the original character limit of 140. Though it contributes to the tacit nature of the site, in the minds of many, it reduces the site’s original simplicity.
Twitter responded to these complaints with the release of an internal study which revealed that of the beta testers for the study only about 2% of tweets exceeded 140 characters. Additionally, Twitter has been having difficulty in recent years expanding its user base as more social media platforms emerge. Smaller numbers of young people are getting Twitter accounts. Instead, they’re turning toward social media platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat.
The increase in characters is an attempt to bring in more users, as well as to even out the amount of information that can be conveyed in a tweet by various languages. For this same reason, Twitter is not extending the increase to people tweeting in Korean, Chinese, or Japanese as more can be fit in 140 characters in those languages than could be fit in languages such as English or French. In a set of three tweets by Twitter project manager @alizar and Twitter engineer @nabokov7 it is made clear that different languages can get across the same message in differing amounts of characters simply due to the syntactic structure.
@alizar’s first tweet is in English with the 140 character constraint applied, reading “Twitter = what’s happening. In some languages, sharing what’s happening in 140 characters is hard bc languages convey different amounts of i” The tweet is cut off there, while @nabakov7, who is tweeting in Japanese, could tweet the entire message that @alizar couldn’t in 140 characters. The entire tweet, using a total of 278 characters in English reads: “Twitter = what’s happening. In some languages, sharing what’s happening in 140 characters is hard bc languages convey different amounts of info (sic) per character. So we’re going to test expanding our limit. It should be easy to express yourself no matter what language you Tweet in,” followed by an emoticon of the Earth.
As the original character limit was meant to, however arbitrarily, mimic the 160 character limit in an SMS message, it makes sense that with the increase of characters allowed in text messages across all platforms that Twitter would follow suit.