SAN FRANCISCO — Expressing yourself in 140 characters is a skill cultivated the world over by millions of Twitter users. Now a small group of them will be able to say twice as much in a single tweet.
The struggling social media service is experimenting with doubling its famous character limit to 280 characters, beginning with a test group. Twitter says it's a random sample of users, so it's hard to tell if the nation's tweeter-in-chief, Donald Trump, will get a shot at longer winded presidential proclamations.
The experiment is a long time coming. Under Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, the San Francisco company has flirted time and again with lifting its character limit as it falls farther behind Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat in the competition for users and advertisers. In its most recent quarter, Twitter reported sales fell and user growth stalled as an earlier "Trump bump" faded.
Any discussion of relaxing the character count has made many Twitter die-hards cringe. Since its founding, strict word economy has been Twitter's most distinctive feature and, for some, its most frustrating.
The enforced brevity can perfectly distill an idea. Cramming a complex thought into 140 characters can also be darn near impossible, coming at the expense of proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, not to mention nuance.
Twitter users have come up with all kinds of innovative ways to escape the character limit chains, from posting screenshots to tweet storms. But some users never felt the need.
Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen says when she tweets in English, she has to edit her tweet down so it will squeeze into the allotted space, removing key words that convey meaning or emotion.
When Twitter senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara tweets in Japanese, he can share his thoughts with plenty of room to spare.
That's because characters in languages such as Japanese, Korean and Chinese have double the amount of information than those in many other languages such as English, Spanish and French. Only 0.4% of tweets in Japanese have 140 characters versus a much higher percentage of tweets in English, for example.
Turns out aggravating users isn't especially good for business. In languages where people have more room to express themselves, more people tweet. And that's something that Twitter desperately needs more of.
So it's planning to extend the character limit to all languages except Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
"We understand since many of you have been Tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters — we felt it, too," Rosen and Ihara wrote in a blog post. "But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint."
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