In September, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) began testing out an expanded 280-character limit, twice as long as the long-standing 140-character limit, in most languages other than ones like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, where entire words can be captured in single characters. Investors celebrated the announcement by sending shares higher on the hopes that the change could improve usability and appeal to wider audiences if rolled out more broadly.
Twitter announced yesterday that in order to mitigate the issue of "cramming" -- where users try and sometimes struggle to fit all of their thoughts into 140 characters -- it is officially rolling out the 280-character limit to the rest of Twitter's user base, still excluding the aforementioned Asian languages.
The data looked promising
The company's data shows that with the historical 140-character limit, 9% of tweets would hit the ceiling. When that happened, users would spend time trying to figure out how to cram everything into 140 characters, and sometimes users would just discard the tweet before sending it. That's bad for engagement, and 9% is a huge proportion of affected tweets.
With the expanded character count, only 1% of tweets were hitting the limit, which assuages user concerns that their timelines would suddenly become a lot more verbose. Just 5% of tweets were longer than 140 characters, but the freedom to exceed that if needed made the service easier to use. Beyond an initial spike in users pushing the 280-character limit mostly out of novelty, the majority of usage quickly reverted to mostly normal behavior, Twitter says.
Can improved usability translate into user growth?
In fact, if you look at the new interface, Twitter seems to want users to become much less cognizant of the character limit itself. Where once there was a numerical indicator of how many characters you had left, there is now just a circular icon that slowly fills up as you type. The implication is that Twitter doesn't want users fretting over how many characters they have left. Twitter just wants users to tweet without worrying about the limit -- while 99% of tweets won't hit the limit anyway.
Over the past couple of years, Twitter has been focusing heavily on product improvements as a way to address long-standing concerns surrounding the usability of the service, including removing the 140-character limit in direct messages way back in 2015. Without a doubt, this is the most meaningful product improvement that Twitter has had in years. Now let's see if it translates into user growth.