Your tweets may double in size, giving more space for Trump

Twitter is testing whether to double its 140-character limit to 280. Would more space be enough to attract more tweeters?

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

Twitter is testing whether to double its signature 140-character limit, a move partially aimed at addressing people's frustrations with the limited amount of information conveyed in a tweet.

The social network said Tuesday that it's letting a "small" group of its 328 million users try tweeting using 280 characters in several languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. It won't say specifically how many people are participating in the test.

Enlarge Image

Here's an example of how a 140 character tweet (left) and a 280 character tweet (right) appear in a Twitter timeline.


Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen and senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara said in a blog post that their research shows that while the character limit frustrates those tweeting in English, it's not so much of  an issue for those tweeting in Japanese, Chinese and Korean. They can say twice as much using fewer characters. 

"We will be collecting data and gathering feedback along the way," the researchers wrote. We're hoping fewer tweets run into the character limit, which should make it easier for everyone to tweet."

The 280-character limit test comes as the number of Twitter users has stalled despite the service undergoing a redesign in June intended to make the platform faster and easier to use. The redesign was met with mixed reaction, and Twitter continues to look for new ways to compete with rival platforms like Facebook, which has 2 billion monthly users, and Snapchat, which boasts 301 million monthly users.

The original 140-character limit was arbitrary, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted as part of the announcement, though it was inspired by the 160-character limit for SMS messages over cell phones.

Since then the idea of 140 characters has become entwined in internet culture and given rise to the "tweet-storm," or a bunch of tweets strung together to circumvent the limit. President Donald Trump, in particular, has become known for this tactic.

Watch this: Twitter testing 280-character limit, but you can use it now

Twitter itself has flirted with the idea of removing its 140-character limit, in place since the company went live 11 years ago. In the past two years, it has ditched the limit when users send direct messages, add photos, videos and GIFs, and reply to other users.  

A new character limit may be just "another baby step" for Twitter when in reality they need to continue taking bigger steps, including further curbing abuse, said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. In July, Twitter said it has been making progress on countering abusive behavior. This includes clamping down on 10 times as many abusive tweeters compared to last year, expanding its mute function to combat bullying and harassment, and showing users how to report abusive tweets. 

"[Doubling the 140-character limit] might get some people to tweet more often, but will it attract new users?" Williamson said. "I doubt that the restriction on the length of a tweet is what has stopped people from joining Twitter." 

Of course, Twitter users wasted no time making fun of the more expansive tweeting space. One user even edited Dorsey's tweet, showing he could have said the same thing in 140 characters after all.

Twitter isn't saying when its testing will be done. But maybe soon we'll see prolific commentators like @realdonaldtrump post provocative tweets that are twice as long.

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First published Sept. 26, 2 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:52 p.m.: Added details, including Trump's usage and a mocking tweet aimed at Dorsey.