Social Networking

Twitter to Test Drive Double-Wide Tweets

Twitter on Tuesday announced a limited test to double the maximum tweet size to 280 characters.

Twitter has been struggling to boost user engagement for the last couple of years, and its tweet character limitation has been the subject of a longstanding debate among customers and company insiders.

One reason for the possible change is to correct for the imbalance between applying the maximum character count to Asian characters — like Japanese, Chinese and Korean — and applying it to characters in western languages like English, Spanish, Portugese or French, noted Twitter Product Manager Aliza Rosen and Senior Software Engineer Ikuhiro Ihara in an online post.

Because of the meanings attached to characters, users are able to convey twice as much information in a tweet rendered in Asian languages, they pointed out. Because of that difference, Twitter plans to test doubling the character limit for all languages except Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

The change is minor from a technical standpoint, but it could dramatically change the way users can express themselves, noted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence!

— jack (@jack) September 26, 2017

Lost in Translation

Twitter’s internal data show that only 0.4 percent of tweets sent in Japanese were 140 characters long, while 9 percent of English language tweets were 140 characters, Rosen and Ihara wrote.

The character limit has been a major source of frustration for English language users, based on the company’s research, but Japanese users don’t have similar complaints, they added.

When they are not limited to140 characters, more people tweet, Rosen and Ihara noted.

Twitter wants to test the change with a small number of users before taking it company wide, they said. They did not elaborate on how many people would participate in the testing or what the criteria would be for selecting them.

Get Shorty?

It’s not clear how users will react to the increased character limit. While some clearly have longed for an increase in the limit, others oppose it, arguing that the requirement to condense information into short bursts is what made Twitter unique in the social media space.

“Not to sound like a nostalgist, but from a user standpoint, I think this is another change for the worse,” said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at Poynter.

The proposed change may be a response to pressure to continue a growth pattern, but the 140-character limit and the chronological display were what made Twitter distinctive, he told TechNewsWorld.

“Twitter excels at helping users get the most ideas in the shortest time,” noted Wayne Kurtzman, research director for social and experiential solutions at IDC.

“Brevity is a strength, and people love that strength,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Depending on how the increase is implemented, Twitter risks harming the relationship it has with is base users, Kurtzman said.

If only the first 140 characters were displayed in large tweets, the change could work, he suggested. The responsibility then would shift to the author to “front load the tweet with relevance.”

On the other hand, a growing body of users feel constrained by the 140-character limit, observed Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan..

“The latest trend towards consecutive tweets indicates that many topics simply don’t fit 140 characters,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Raising the limit will probably be popular with users.”

There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

The 280-character limit will make it easier for users who tend to favor multiple-entry tweet storms, he told TechNewsWorld, but that could negate part of the appeal of Twitter, which is the compressed nature of the posts.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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