On Tuesday afternoon, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) doubled the number of characters allowed in a tweet, increasing the limit from 140 characters to 280. The change followed Twitter's earlier tests of the product change with a limited number of users.

In the company's third-quarter earnings call late last month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said it was still too early to tell whether increasing the limit in some languages was a good idea, but he also said Twitter would share its findings from the tests within "the next few weeks." Apparently, it was happy with its findings.

A businessman uses a smartphone in the back of a cab

Image source: Getty Images.

Longer tweets

When Twitter started exploring the idea of a 280-character tweet, management wanted to solve what it refers to as "cramming," without compromising the brevity its platform is known for.

Cramming refers to languages on Twitter that have a high percentage of tweets hitting the 140-character limit. As Twitter explained in a blog post last month, some languages are more susceptible to cramming than others. Nine percent of all tweets in English, for instance, hit the 140-character limit, while only 0.4% of tweets in Japanese hit the limit. This made sense since it's possible to convey about twice the information in Japanese in 140 characters as it is in English, Twitter explained.

A higher character limit for languages with cramming aimed to solve this problem while keeping Twitter's conciseness.

Twitter said its tests with a 280-character limit confirmed that it is possible to address cramming without compromising its platform.

"We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often," Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen said on in a blog post on Tuesday. "But importantly, people Tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained."

Twitter's findings

Here are some of the interesting findings Twitter discovered when testing the 280-character limit.

A chart showing the number of Tweets at varying numbers of characters

Twitter's findings. Chart source: Twitter.

  • Only 1% of test users' tweets in English ran into the character limit, compared to 9% previously.
  • Only 5% of tweets sent from test users were longer than 140 characters.
  • Only 2% of tweets from test users were over 190 characters.
  • Test users "received more engagement (likes, retweets, @mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter," Rosen said.

After seeing this data, Twitter concluded that raising the limit will ultimately make tweeting easier without substantially changing the timeline reading experience.

Is execution finally improving?

Perhaps more interesting than the product change itself is Twitter's speed of testing and deployment of a bold update. Twitter began testing 280-character limits in late September and has already rolled out the change to all users in languages where cramming was an issue.

Rosen summed up how Twitter handled the product change:

We are making this change after listening and observing a problem our global community was having (it wasn't easy enough to Tweet!), studying data to understand how we could improve, trying it out, and listening to your feedback.

As Twitter tries to ramp up user growth so it can reaccelerate revenue growth, investors should look for more rapid and informed product execution. Fortunately, Rosen promises more to come: "We'll continue listening and working to make Twitter easier for everyone while making sure we keep what you love."

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