Twitter to expand character limit in bid to boost growth

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New York - Twitter, struggling to attract new users, will lift its 140-character limit on tweets in an experiment with a small group that may expand to the entire social media platform.

The test announced Tuesday will let users send tweets with as many as 280 characters. Lengthening the character limit may result in more engaging conversation on the platform, helping its bid to turn itself into a destination for live events and discussion. It includes all languages except Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

Twitter said those Asian languages can convey about double the amount of information in one character compared with many other languages.

“We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter,” Aliza Rosen, company product manager, and Ikuhiro Ihara, senior software engineer, said on Tuesday in a blog post. “When people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some time to spare, we see more people tweeting.”

Character limit is a source of frustration for people tweeting in English, but not, for example, in Japanese, Twitter said. The company said its research shows that 9% of all tweets in English hit 140 characters, while only 0.4% in Japanese reach the maximum.

Twitter has been struggling to invigorate user growth and advertising revenue while investors are questioning whether the San Francisco-based company can find a long-term growth path. Twitter reported 328 million active monthly users in the second quarter, unchanged from the previous period. Shares have declined 15% in the two months since then, closing at $16.59 on Tuesday in New York.

The change may help drive engagement for the social media company, said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG.

“One hundred forty characters was created when we had flip phones and small displays - displays have gotten bigger, and it does seem like an increasingly arbitrary limit,” Greenfield said. “Being able to tell a more detailed story makes it more accessible to a wider range of people.”

The company has made product changes over the past several years to make the platform easier to use, and from time to time has floated the idea of removing the 140-character limit, even proposing increasing to a maximum of 10 000. A popular place for journalists, athletes and politicians, Twitter has had difficulty expanding to a general audience.

Each time the company raises the prospect of changes, it has been criticised by regular users. For instance, early last year, after reports surfaced that Twitter was planning to make its timeline algorithmic, ranking popular tweets first instead of listing them in chronological order, there was an outcry of users who pledged to abandon the service.

“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 the blog. “But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do.”

Twitter has already started to relax its 140-character limit. The company said a year ago that additions like photos or videos no longer counted toward the limit. The company originally created the restriction to encourage speed and brevity - something that has differentiated it from rival platforms. 

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