The Industry

Remember When Longer Tweets Were the Thing That Was Going to Ruin Twitter?

Headshot of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Jack Dorsey’s decision to raise the character limit looks good in retrospect. But Twitter has moved on to new controversies.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A year ago, Twitter lifted its famous character limit from 140 to 280. On Tuesday, the company released a handful of data points that suggest the change has not been nearly as profound as critics feared.

Here is what Twitter says about how longer tweets have changed the service, and how they haven’t:

More please and thank you. There’s been a rise in the use of ‘please’ (+54%) and ‘thank you’ (+22%) over the past year since the limit doubled.

Abbreviations are used less. We’re seeing abbreviations such as ‘gr8’ (-36%), ‘b4’ (-13%), and ‘sry’ (-5%) decline in favor of proper words like ‘great’ (+32%), ‘before’ (+70%), and ‘sorry’ (+31%).

It’s easier to Tweet and Twitter is still brief. The most common length of Tweets remains small — with 140 characters it was 34 characters and with 280 characters it is 33 characters. Historically, 9% of Tweets hit the 140-character limit. This reflected the challenge of fitting a thought into a Tweet, often resulting in editing to fit within the limit. With the expanded 280 character count, in English only about 1% of Tweets hit the 280-character limit, 12% of Tweets sent are longer than 140 characters and 5% of Tweets sent are longer than 190 characters. Globally, we’re seeing 6% of all Tweets over 140 characters and 3% of Tweets over 190 characters. Less work to fit thoughts into Tweets and short Tweets remain the norm!

More questions and conversation. The number of Tweets with a question mark ‘?’ has increased by 30% and overall, and Tweets are receiving more replies.

The key metrics above are the ones about tweet length. When Twitter announced the change, the fear among its loyalists was that it would spur an epidemic of verbosity. Twitter reps insisted that wouldn’t be the case, and explained their logic to me at the time. Few believed them, but it looks like they were basically right. People rarely use all 280 characters, and the vast majority of tweets (88 percent) are still 140 or fewer.

The data are meant to serve as a sort of victory lap on Twitter’s part. The company’s fortunes have improved over the past year, and it’s hard to find anyone still arguing for the return of the old 140-character limit.

That said, the whole debate feels like it happened much longer ago than one year. At a time when Twitter is under scrutiny for its role in radicalizing right-wingers and fomenting anti-Semitism; when critics are calling for it to drop the like button or even the retweet button; and when CEO Jack Dorsey says he’s rethinking everything: The anniversary of its character-limit change doubles as a reminder of a time when people didn’t want Twitter to radically rearrange its core features.