November 13, 2017 Katherine Haas

Our Take on Twitter Increasing to 280 Characters

Those of us who remember life pre-social media have watched the phenomenon change the world. The popularity of social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have transformed the way we communicate—the frequency of use even justifying the creation of new words like “Tweet” in our vocabulary. Though networks like Facebook and Twitter each play their respective roles in the social media realm, there’s still a need for these companies to innovate within the niches they cater to. Recently, Twitter doubled its character count from 140 to 280 for most users—a move that inspired mixed opinions among those who frequent the platform. Twitter increasing to 280 characters is definitely an attempt at innovation, but will it be a successful one?

It depends on what you deem “successful.” The fact is, loyal Twitter users are going to continue to use Twitter despite that they are now “allowed” to include more characters per Tweet. If they still want to Tweet as they have been Tweeting, the increase to 280 characters doesn’t affect their ability to do so. In fact, in a 280-character test group, only 5 percent of Tweets sent from users were longer than 140 characters, and only 2 percent were more than 190 characters. What the change does do is pressure users to feel that they now have to say more.

Twitter’s original 140 character limit wasn’t arbitrarily chosen. The founders decided on 140 because they wanted a Tweet to be able to fit in a text message, and SMS messages only allow 160 characters. Thus, that equals 140 characters for the Tweet and the remaining 20 for the username.

The logic behind Twitter’s 140 character limit has led to Twitter users having to convey their ideas concisely. The novelty of Twitter as a social media network is just that—that you have to pare your ideas down to what is most important. In that sense, while some think that a shorter character limit stifles creativity, it actually promotes it. Figuring out how to say something significant in few words is an art in itself.

Twitter increasing to 280 characters is essentially letting in room for more noise. Sure, users are still limited, but their platform for expressing points has just doubled. Some people may use it smartly, but let’s be honest—the majority of users will probably spout out unnecessary filler. We’ve seen what people can do with 140 characters, so why “fix” what isn’t broken?

It’s true that there are far more significant things going on in the world than debating Twitter increasing to 280 characters, but in the sphere of social media, it’s been a hot topic as of late. Ten years from now, we may be so accustomed to Tweeting 280 characters that even calling it into question becomes laughable, but immediately coming off the transition, it will be interesting to see how it affects the way we use the social media network.

Innovation is great and necessary, but in this case, Twitter seems to be grasping at straws. Brevity was its staple, and now it seems to be moving in the other direction. How far will it go? Maybe 280 characters will be regarded as “not enough” one day. We’ll find out the next time Twitter feels the need to scratch the innovation itch.

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