#KeepingCRESocial by Sarah Malcolm: More Characters, Same Message

2/4/19

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Twitter shocked the social sphere when it announced in 2017 the iconic tweet character count would double from 140 to 280 characters. Over the years, occasional rumors claimed the change was coming, but it never did. Since day one, the 140-character limit was as synonymous with the social media platform as its blue-and-white bird logo.

People initially found the 140-character limit challenging. How do you summarize all relevant information into a concise message? A message went from “Do you know how Twitter changed how people write?” to “Do u kno hw Twtr changd how ppl wrte?” Twitter revolutionized how an entire generation came to speak, write, and text. We learned how to cut to the meat of our content. We became better at crafting catchy, click-worthy headlines. Communication sped up.

Twitter tweaked what counts as 140 characters over time to better meet user needs. Originally, long URLs consumed valuable message space. Social services offered link shortening, but now, URLs addresses don’t count at all towards the character limit. The same became true for attached media.

But what if a tweet still exceeded the allowable count? Twitter users found a way around that with message threads, indicated by adding a “#/#” (e.g., 1/2, 2/2) to the end of the tweet.

So, given how people adapted to work within Twitter’s restriction, it’s no wonder the character count doubling surprised aficionados. Twitter claimed the change was to allow its users to express longer ideas. Specifically, it cited how languages impact the amount of meaning a user can share in a single tweet. For example, Chinese speakers can convey more with a single character than English speakers.

Now that we’ve been able to Tweet longer for over a year, what’s changed?

Not much, really.

Techcrunch reviewed released Twitter data and found only 1 percent of user tweets reached the new 280-character limit. Only 12 percent of tweets exceeded the earlier 140-character maximum. Some more fun facts they highlighted about tweet length:

  • Only 5 percent of tweets exceeded 190 characters.

  • Average tweet length has shortened from 34 characters to 33 characters since the change

  • Historically, 9 percent of tweets reached the 140 character limit. Today, it’s 1 percent.

What does this mean? Essentially, Twitter users still view the social network as a place for concisely sharing important information. Looks like we’re saving our big rants for blogs or other social networks.


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