Twitter’s defining feature has always been brevity: 140 characters was all you got. But under a new test announced Tuesday, the San Francisco tech company said it will begin giving users twice as much room to tweet.
Tweets of 280 characters will be rolled out to a small group of users initially before launching in most countries, Twitter said in a blog post. Users tweeting in Japanese, Chinese and Korean will continue to see a 140-character limit because Twitter said more can be conveyed in those languages in fewer characters.
The company said in the blog post that users tweeting in many languages frequently hit the character limit. “We’re hoping fewer Tweets run into the character limit, which should make it easier for everyone to Tweet,” the company wrote.
Twitter’s 140-character limit was based on the limitations of short-message service technology, also known as SMS, which is used to send text messages. SMS has largely become obsolete to Twitter users as smartphone technology has advanced.
By expanding the character limit, Twitter hopes to spur more usage by attracting people who felt too constrained to share their thoughts. But in doing so, the company also risks diminishing the platform’s hallmark — its urgency.
Despite the continued success of Facebook and the rise of competitors such as Snapchat and Instagram, Twitter’s penchant for short, rapid-fire messages has made it a vital hub for news and discussion of current events in real time.
In a tweet that tallied exactly 280 characters (excluding a hyperlink tacked on the end), Twitter co-founder and Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said the shift would enable the company to maintain “our brevity, speed, and essence!”
Gartner analyst Brian Blau doubts the change will have a major effect on the content users post to Twitter.
“Brevity is what shaped Twitter’s content style and while the extra characters may change some aspects,” he said, “it will make the service a bit easier to read and engage with.”
That’s vital for the social media company, which has been under pressure from Wall Street to jump-start its user growth, which has stagnated globally at 328 million this year. Its U.S. user base actually declined to 68 million in the second quarter of 2017 from 70 million in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the company’s share price has dipped 43% in the last year, closing Tuesday at $16.59.
The lackluster financial performance belies the outsized influence the company has on culture, politics and now (potentially) the future of humankind, thanks to Twitter’s most famous user, President Trump, who has been engaged in a war of words with North Korea on the platform.
Of course, some think character limits are the least of Twitter’s problems. Users have found ways to make do with Twitter’s constraints on their own, deploying the tweetstorm (a series of tweets that can read like a narrative) and the screencap (a tweet that includes an image of a longer piece of text) to post lengthier screeds. More pressing than expanding the character count, they say, is curtailing trolls, hate speech and the potential for Trump to unwittingly start a war through the platform.
Since his return as CEO in 2015, Dorsey has made some changes to the company he helped found, including slashing the company’s workforce and introducing a news feature called Moments.
Twitter has also made a greater push to add more live video, chasing the ad dollars that are flocking to the medium. The company has partnered with Major League Baseball and the National Football League to deliver games, betting that Twitter is inherently a compelling place to watch live sports and engage with fans at the same time.
Yet Twitter has struggled to gain users as it competes in a crowded marketplace against rivals like Snapchat, which promotes uninhibited fun, Instagram, the home for pretty pictures, and Facebook, the de facto destination for friends and family. Twitter, by comparison, can appear intimidating to neophytes. The platform is beholden to consumers of real-time news (perhaps the opposite of fun?) and people with a penchant for sharing terse opinions.
Doubling the number of characters permitted may enable users to add some nuance to those opinions, perhaps helping tone down the taunting that critics say mars the Twitter experience.
It remains to be seen whether the 280-character limit will become a permanent feature — let alone a defining one, like its 140-character predecessor. Asked last year about the fate of the 140-character limit, Dorsey was adamant it would remain in place.
“It’s staying,” he said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. “It’s a good constraint for us, and it allows for of-the-moment brevity.”
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6 p.m.: This article was updated to include comment from analyst Brian Blau and additional context about Twitter’s business.
This article was originally published at 2:05 p.m.