Twitter, the social network that has struggled with declining sales and stalled user growth globally, is testing a feature to give users more space to write tweets, Recode reported. The pilot program means that a trial group of users will get 280 characters for each tweet instead of the 140 characters that have been one of Twitter's defining features.
The company on Tuesday explained its reasons to double the character limit in a blog post. Twitter's internal research found that languages like English and Spanish could use some extra room instead of removing "a word that conveys an important meaning or emotion." Japanese, Chinese and Korean can convey more information with fewer words, as a point of contrast.
Twitter plans to collect data on the test and evaluate it before offering longer tweets to all users. The test group of users is being selected at random.
The immediacy and brevity of tweets make Twitter almost perfectly suited for the smartphone era, which has dramatically changed the way people communicate, get information and find entertainment. Smartphone users tend to swipe their way through messages, newsfeeds and emails quickly, making concision a virtue. Since announcing the 280-character test, Twitter has erupted with tweetstorms among disgruntled users who condemn or mock the move.
But the 140-character cutoff was arbitrary as a holdover from the early days when tweets were sent as SMS texts with a total limit of 160 characters. Twitter has gradually added the ability to embed HTML links, images, emojis and GIFs in tweets, which also have expanded the versatility of communications and marketing on its platform.
Meanwhile, Twitter users have found ways to cope with the 140-character limit by stringing tweets together in a series. Adding ellipses, plus signs and numbers to tweets are common ways to let readers know there's more to read. Expanding the character limit of tweets to 280 characters will mean that users — and brands — can use one tweet instead of two to express the same ideas, but it's unclear whether longer tweets will keep people engaged on the platform for longer periods.
Twitter's biggest challenge is growing its user base among real people — and not the bots and anonymous trolls that clutter it with objectionable material. A joint study from the University of Southern California and Indiana University published earlier this year found that up to 48 million — or 15% — of Twitter accounts might be bots rather than people, going against Twitter's internal figures.
The platform also receives almost daily publicity as the go-to mobile app for President Donald Trump, who uses Twitter as an unfiltered channel to reach supporters, lash out at critics and pick fights with everyone from celebrities to politicians to professional athletes. But the extra media coverage hasn't helped Twitter to significantly grow its audience, a challenge that 280-character tweets are unlikely to overcome.