The Agony & Ecstasy Of Twitter's Latest Update: 280 Characters

Update: November 7, 2017: It's official — after a little over a month of testing, Twitter has confirmed it is expanding the 280-character count. The company says most people stuck with shorter Tweets during the test period (only 5% of Tweets were over 140 characters) and having more room to Tweet resulted in more likes, retweets, and @mentions. So, if you're trying to build a following, use that additional space to your advantage.

This piece was originally published on September 26, 2017.

Twitter has spent years teasing users with small moves toward increasing its 140-character count, each of which has provoked either intense outrage or joy. Some people love the idea of having more than 140 characters; others think it ruins what makes a tweet a tweet.

Today's announcement is sure to provoke the strongest emotions yet: Twitter will be trying out a longer, 280-character limit with select users. Earlier this year, Twitter announced that including an "@username" would no longer count toward the overall character limit, but the news today is the closest the platform has come to actually expanding this limit.

Twitter's reasoning is interesting, to say the least. In a recent post, Aliza Rosen, the company's product manager, and Ikuhiro Ihara, a senior software engineer, explain that the change is meant to address "languages impacted by cramming":

"In languages like Japanese, Korean, and Chinese you can convey about double the amount of information in one character as you can in many other languages, like English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French," Rosen and Ihara write. "We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter."

This means that Japanese, Chinese, and Korean users who tweet in their native languages will not be included in the test, and will still be restricted to 140 characters.

Courtesy of Twitter.

People have complained about the platform's character cap for years, practically since Twitter was first founded in 2006. Back then, there was a practical reason for 140 characters: It was the amount that could fit into an SMS message, while still leaving room for @username.

In the blog post, Twitter maintained that 280-character messages will still have the Twitter spirit: "Twitter is about brevity. It's what makes it such a great way to see what's happening. Tweets get right to the point with the information or thoughts that matter. That is something we will never change."

Twitter would not provide further comment on the rationale behind the 280-character limit test. But it's worth asking: Why now? It could be about engagement: Rosen and Ihara wrote that while some people who have been tweeting for years may harbor "an emotional attachment" to 140 characters, they saw more users tweeting when they had leftover space and didn't have to squeeze their thoughts into the current character limit.