Twitter is taking another step towards getting rid of the 140-character limit for tweets: The company announced Tuesday afternoon that it is beginning to test 280-character tweets with a small subset of its users. However, Twitter won’t test the new character limit with users who tweet in Korean, Chinese or Japanese.
Earlier attempts by the company to go beyond 140 characters were met with loud protests by a small but vocal group of its users, leading the company to backpedal on plans to add much longer text post. Instead, it slowly introduced tweaks to make the 140-character limit less rigid by excepting links, user names and more.
That’s why on Tuesday, Twitter tried to assure its users that little would change, even with the potential of twice-as-long tweets on the horizon. A blog post announcing the tests read, in part:
“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 originally introduced the 140-character limit to adhere to the official limit for SMS text messages. Phone companies around the world have been limiting SMS messages to 160 characters; by keeping its own messaging limit at 140 characters, Twitter could relay an entire tweet, plus the name of a its sender, in a single SMS.
Over time, SMS became less important to Twitter as most of its users transitioned to smart phones capable of running Twitter’s mobile apps. However, some users have argued that Twitter would lose its appeal, and turn into a kind of Facebook knock-off, if it allowed longer messages.
This balancing act between keeping Twitter’s base happy and innovating on some of its core features may also have been one reason why the company tried to justify its new tests with a number of internal data points. 9% of all English-language tweets hit Twitter’s 140-character limit, according to this data, while only 0.4% of all tweets in Japanese hit the same limit.
Similar differences could be noticed for Korean and Japanese, which is why the company exempted these three languages from the 140-character tests. “We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean),” the blog post explained.
Twitter also tried to use comparative linguistics to explain how it arrived at the new 280-character limit it is now testing: “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.”
To give everyone the same freedom to express themselves, Twitter decided to double the amount of characters for all languages except Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, or so the logic goes. It remains to be seen whether this is enough to placate staunch defenders of the 140-character limit, or whether Twitter instead stumbled upon a way to offend even more people with these tests.