Ever since the dawn of time, Twitter has restricted tweets to 140 characters.

It made sense back when the whole thing launched. People mostly read tweets via text messages then, in 2006 or so, and SMS messages were restricted to 160 characters. The 20-character difference? That was for the @handle.

Yet, so much has happened since: Facebook, the iPhone, Donald Trump. Now, finally, like Ikea realizing it could just sell all its stuff on Amazon, Twitter has announced that it no longer needs to restrict tweets to such a short, arbitrary character limit. Instead, as part of a pilot program, a small segment of users will be able to post tweets with up to 280 characters.

Cofounder Jack Dorsey announced the change in a post on Facebook. (Kidding! He announced it with a tweet--a 280 character tweet, at that):

What took so long? My wild guess is that a bunch of women at Twitter have been advocating this change for years. They were all ignored, of course, until a techbro with a Harvard MBA made a similar suggestion. Now suddenly everything is changing, most riki-tik.

But the official story is available on Twitter's blog, written by product manager Aliza Rosen and senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara. It starts with a relatable observation: "Trying to cram your thoughts into a Tweet - we've all been there, and it's a pain..." and continues:

Although we feel confident about our data and the positive impact this change will have, we want to try it out with a small group of people before we make a decision to launch to everyone. What matters most is that this works for our community - we will be collecting data and gathering feedback along the way. We're hoping fewer Tweets run into the character limit, which should make it easier for everyone to Tweet.

At least part of the realization, they explain, has to do with the degree to which limiting tweets to 140 characters restricts thought in English and other western languages more than it does in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean.

Fun note: reading the explanation requires clicking Dorsey's tweet, then clicking the official Twitter tweet, and then clicking through to the blog post--all of which sort of explains why the longer tweet policy is required to begin with.

Who knows where this is all going. Trump seems to have been more than able to turn the country upside down within the confines of 140 characters--potentially to the tune of $2 billion in Twitter's pockets. The real threat of course is Facebook, which has way more users, a way bigger market cap, and of course, no post length restriction.

Until it all shakes out, @twitter, thx 4 the lngr twts!

 

Published on: Sep 27, 2017
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