You may have noticed that the tweets in your timeline are now super-sized. Twitter announced a big change last Tuesday. The social media network expanded the character limit from 140 to 280, in an effort to help users be more expressive.
The 140-character limit was originally established to reflect the length of SMS messages, which was how tweets were distributed prior to the development of mobile apps. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters; Twitter reserved the remaining 20 for the username. As often happens in creative mediums, the constraint spurred creativity, and Twitter became a fast-moving, newsy, jokey playground.
Twitter has considered expanding the tweet length for years. In 2015, the company seriously considered introducing tweets of up to 10,000 characters, but CEO Jack Dorsey ultimately shelved the update before it was ever rolled out.
Twitter has since made smaller tweaks to help people share more within the 140-character constraint, like ensuring that usernames and images don’t count against the limit. This is the first time, though, that Twitter has simply increased the number of characters users have to work with.
However, there were many who said that they would gladly exchange the increased character limit for an “edit” button. If you follow the #280Characters tag, you’ll notice one thing that keeps coming up again and again – people are more interested in an “edit” button than this new character limit. At the moment, if you regret a tweet you send out into the world, you have two options: try to clarify your tweet with more follow-up tweets, or delete it and pray no one screenshotted it (‘Covfefe’ anyone?) An edit button would certainly be a welcome edition, particularly now that platforms like Instagram and Facebook have allowed this for some time.
Still, super-sized tweets are likely to change the nature of the network in many unpredictable ways. Will those multi-message “tweetstorms” shrink into a smaller number of tweets, or will the expanded real estate encourage people to write even more? What new kinds of jokes and memes are possible at 280 characters that were not possible at 140?
We’ll soon find out.