Twitter’s 140 characters: does size really matter?

September 28 2016
Published in Opinions

Last week, Twitter rolled out its long-awaited new character count rules. Photos, GIFS, videos, quoted tweets and polls are now no longer counted as part of a tweet’s character limit. Twitter’s 140 characters have been a subject of debate since day one, with some users seeing them as a frustrating limitation that should be scrapped, and others insisting that they’re a key part of Twitter that contributes to the platform’s appeal.

But when it comes to the length of a tweet, does size really matter?

The 140 characters have always had their hardcore fans, but that’s not where Twitter’s true identity lies.

The “beautiful constraint” has been a part of Twitter since the very beginning, when a tweet had to be the same length as a standard text message, or 160 characters back in the day (and if that doesn’t make you feel old…).

The challenge of keeping messages short and sweet developed the iconic features that make Twitter the fast-moving information network that it is today, such as hashtags and link sharing. But the quirk that was once key to defining Twitter has now taken the backseat. The platform has gradually carved itself a new identity as a media in its own right - a real time, customizable news stream. The app’s recent move to the “news” section of the Apple store is a perfect example of the new direction it has taken.

So why is the 140-character limit still here at all? Well, it isn’t really. The 140-character rule hasn’t existed in its original form for years. Twitter has been chipping away at the limit since 2009, when the platform first added the official retweet feature, which allowed users to save a few characters.

Since then Twitter has been continuously developing new features to make tweet content richer and more meaningful. From automatic link-shortening to removing mentions and photos from the character limit altogether - the 140 characters may still technically exist, but they have been stretched far beyond their original form.

Why? Simply because the need was there. Twitter users have been finding ways to get around the platform’s limitations from the start - from services such as and Tweetlonger, to tricks such as tweetstorms and adding screenshots of lengthier texts (a.k.a Oneshots).

Whatever its plans for the future, the changes that Twitter has made to the 140-character limit so far have all aimed to make the short format of tweets more engaging - giving more meaning to bite-sized pieces of information. They’re also a step towards making Twitter easier to use and more appealing to experienced users and newcomers alike. As long as any further changes made to the character count rule continue to build on these ideas, it can only be good news for Twitter.

After all, whether it’s long or short, what makes a really good tweet is the idea behind it - from a point of view, to a link to a great article or a perfectly-timed hashtag. In the end, when it comes to tweets, size really doesn’t matter, it’s all about engaging content and the right timing.

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Published in Opinions