The 140-character limit is Twitter’s defining feature and also its most controversial. Critics say that it makes the service confining and unfriendly to new users. Defenders say that enforced brevity is what makes the service so useful.
Twitter is considering doubling the limit. In a Tuesday blog post, Twitter announced that a limited number of users will be given the ability to use up to 280 characters in a tweet.
It might seem like expanding the limit will only cause people to pack more information in to each tweet. But Twitter argues that’s not actually the case. They point to the experience of Japanese, where a richer character set means that you can say more with fewer characters. Japanese users are subject to the same 140-character limit English users are, but they find the limit much less constraining:
While nine percent of English tweets use the full 140 characters, less than one percent of tweets in Japan are that long. This suggests that doubling the character limit for tweets will allow English users to express themselves more comfortably—without creating a temptation to create long, un-Twitter-like screeds.
Twitter plans to make the change for all languages other than Chinese, Japanese, and Korean—languages whose large character sets make the increase unnecessary.
The increase is “only available to a small group right now,” Twitter says. The company is going to evaluate the results from this trial before deciding whether to expand the character limit for all Twitter users.
When rumors swirled last year that Twitter might expand the character limit to 10,000 characters, Ars Technica’s own Peter Bright wrote a magnificent screed against the proposal.
“The 140-character limit is not merely some incidental feature of Twitter; it’s the very essence of the service,” Bright wrote. “The mandate to be concise means that Twitter distinguishes itself from abundant conventional blogging platforms. Tweets can be observations, jokes, questions, or carefully distilled ideas, but they cannot be lengthy treatises or complex arguments.”
Bright isn’t a fan of the 280-character expansion, either. In a Slack conversation today, he called it a “weird nothingburger” that would break third-party clients without solving any real problems with the platform.