After a trial run, Twitter is officially doubling its signature 140-character limit. Meanwhile, larger issues remain.
Terry CollinsStaff 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.
So why is the company focused on doubling its character count for tweets to 280 characters from its original 140?
That's the question the company is likely to encounter -- despite some possible fanfare -- after announcing Tuesday it is officially doubling its signature 140-character limit for all users following a "successful" trial run in September with select users.
"We are making this change after listening and observing a problem our global community was having (it wasn't easy enough to Tweet!), studying data to understand how we could improve, trying it out, and listening to your feedback," Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen wrote in a blog post.
Most people should automatically see the 280-character feature. If not, they can update their mobile app or refresh twitter.com on their computers. People tweeting in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese will remain at the 140 character limit for now.
The move comes at an awkward time for Twitter, which has been facing criticism and pressure from shareholders, Congress, President
and everyday people who use it. Among the most-discussed complaints have been concerns that the company negligently mishandled the daily harassment some people experience on its service and that it allowed propaganda on the platform that illegally influenced the 2016 presidential election.
Concerns about Russian interference in the US election led congressional leaders to grill Facebook, Google and Twitter on the details of how that meddling happened and what the tech giants are doing to stop it. Fearing federal regulation, the companies have vowed to make changes.
Watch this: Twitter doubles its limit to 280 characters
So, again, what does 280 characters have to do with all this? The announcement could briefly divert negative attention from larger problems, said Kelley Heider, a crisis communications expert at SSPR, a public relations firm that often works with tech companies.
"They change their narrative in the news cycle by responding to user feedback," she said.
But there are potential pitfalls to the new character count, Heider added, particularly if people use the greater length to post even more inflammatory tweets.
"It will be pretty interesting to see what President Trump does with it, for sure," she said.
Many users tweeted to the full 280-character limit because it was "new and novel," Twitter's Rosen wrote in her blog post. Once the novelty wore off, she said, about 5 percent of tweets sent were longer than 140 characters and only 2 percent were over 190 characters.
Users who had more room to tweet received more followers, retweets, likes and mentions, she added.
When the 280-character trial began, Twitter CEO
said in series of tweets that the original 140-character limit was arbitrary, inspired by the 160-character limit for SMS messages over cellphones. He expected "the snark and critique" about the change and said most users likely won't use the full 280 characters.
"What matters now is we clearly show why this change is important, and to prove to you it's better," he said. "Give us some time to learn and confirm (or challenge!) our ideas."
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