Twitter announced this afternoon that it would test a significant change to its defining feature: the 140-character limit. For a small random sample of users, the site will allow tweets that reach up to 280 characters. That’s, for those of you bad at math, double the current limit, which was chosen based on SMS character limits — a technical obstacle that has vanished as smartphones have taken over.
To answer your first question, the test is among a small random sample, so the odds are pretty good that the president isn’t in it. But, boy, who’s excited for him to find out?
With that out of the way, there’s a second big question: why? According to the official blog post announcing the test, it has to do with the not-very-dense Latin alphabet. “Our research shows us that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people Tweeting in English, but it is not for those Tweeting in Japanese,” writes product manager Aliza Rosen and software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara. “Also, in all markets, when people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people Tweeting — which is awesome!” More people tweeting means more people using Twitter, and more users means more chances to monetize that activity in some way.
The third big question, and the one animating the Twitter-power-user scene right now, is: Is this bad? I can’t say for sure but I don’t think so. Right now, plenty of people just take screenshots of longer text snippets — say, from the Notes app — and upload them as images when they can’t fit what they want to say into 140 characters. Raising the character limit might make more verbose users post in text rather than images. Text, of course, is searchable (this was a similar line of thinking CEO Jack Dorsey offered last year when he flirted with letting people post much longer text attachments). Twitter has already made other tweaks this year to allow more characters in tweets, excluding media attachments and preceding @-handles from the character count, neither of which have considerably changed the experience, (save for the first couple of days when users try to push the limits of a new feature by tagging 50 users in a single post).
There’s no timetable for when the limit upgrade will be available widely. Maybe it will fail and never roll out. But considering the PR rollout corresponding with the decision, I’d bet on the former.