Since its birth in 2006 Twitter has rapidly expanded its user base to such a level that it has become a sort of household name. The one thing that has become most associated with Twitter is its 140-character limit, only allowing people to say short blurbs about their lives and the things around them. On 26 September 2017, Twitter officially announced that it is extending the character limit to 280 for languages that have a high percentage of 140-character tweets (like English). Was this the right move?
Why Is Twitter Doing This?
Certain languages have been blessed with the ability to express a copious amount of information in a very small amount of characters (such as Japanese and Korean). Latin languages, for example, (usually) require more characters to express the same thought.
Twitter has found that only 0.4% of tweets in Japanese hit the limit, whereas 9% of English tweets are purposefully shortened to avoid this barrier. The most creative “tweeters” will shorten expressions like “OK” to “K” and “in real life” to “irl.” This still creates problems for people who cannot put their thoughts into a 140-character space. After all, in the English language one sentence is twenty words on average. Each word is around 5.5 characters. You can barely fit more than that into one tweet.
Why the Expansion Might Help Twitter
People who use other social media platforms often find that they have virtually no limitation to the number of characters they can insert in their posts. This is something only specific to Twitter and has been a frustration of users that are coming in from other experiences. By having the ability to type little more than a sentence, they feel restricted to posting superficial blurbs with very little depth. And they aren’t wrong.
But Twitter was designed with short prose in mind. Sure, it has the capacity to store many more characters than it does, but it wouldn’t really set itself aside as a micro-blogging platform any more if it did that. Instead of opening up the limit to 10000, as it was reported as far back as January 2016, it decided to do the next best thing: Have a limit that allows for longer full sentences, perhaps even two. This will help relieve some of the pressure that Twitter users have been feeling for the last decade or so.
Why It Might Not Matter
When you create an attractive bit of space, there will always be someone who wants to fill it. It’s a rule of nature. Once everyone discovers that they can type 280 characters, that’s just what they’ll type. It’s like attempting to relieve highway traffic in a populated city by doubling the lanes. It might actually work for a few days (maybe even months, depending on how public the announcement was), but eventually you’ll end up with cars stacking up against each other in bumper-to-bumper traffic all over again.
At the very least we can expect more seasoned Twitter users to have more space to make their thoughts more coherent. We might see less shortened writing as a result, although I think that people who habitually write in shortened text will continue to do so while taking advantage of the 280-character limit to write even more.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that Twitter will just be the same as always? Or will this spark a revolution of better prose in tweets? Let us know what you think in a comment!