The 11-year-old company has been trying to figure out how to change the social media service without alienating the people who have embraced its short, 140-character format.
SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter’s defining attribute has long been its brevity: 140 characters in a post and no more.
That is set to change. Twitter on Tuesday said it would test extending the limit to 280 characters.
Twitter said the goal was to eliminate what it views as constraints that keep people from tweeting more frequently. One significant barrier, according to Twitter’s internal research, has been the limit on character count.
“When people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people tweeting,” Twitter said in a blog post.
It is a significant moment for the 11-year-old Twitter, which has been trying to figure out how to change the social media service without alienating the people who have embraced its short format.
The idea of extending the length of Twitter posts has been contentious internally, batted around among product groups that are trying to find ways to persuade people to use the service more frequently.
At 328 million users, Twitter has been criticized for its inability to attract more people. Investors have grown nervous, as that slowing of user growth has affected the company’s revenue.
Last year, Twitter tried extending its character count by allowing people to post photos and GIFs without counting them against the overall character limit. It also toyed with posts exceeding 140 characters, until criticism from users prompted Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, to proclaim that the limit was here to stay.
Twitter is preparing for a backlash from those who might take issue with a 280-character tweet.
“We understand since many of you have been tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters,” the company said. “But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint.”
Twitter pointed to people who post primarily in Japanese, Chinese and Korean, languages with alphabets that allow the expression of more thoughts in fewer characters. Those users tend to bump up against the character limit less often, which Twitter said leads to more frequent messages.
As a result, Twitter said, if rules around characters are loosened, English-speaking users — who tend to use more characters in tweets — will also hit the character limit less frequently. That may, in turn, lead English-speaking users to post more regularly.
The test will begin in small groups around the world. The company has not said whether it will roll out the change to all users in the future.
Twitter said the people who will get to test the 280-character tweets will be randomly selected. Whether that may include prominent Twitter users like President Donald Trump is unclear.
Trump has often used Twitter to announce policy decisions, which has sometimes led to heat on the service. This week, there was a renewed call to ban Trump from using Twitter after Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, said recent inflammatory tweets from Trump should be considered “a declaration of war.” On Monday, Twitter issued a statement from its policy team saying that it takes a number of factors into account when dealing with violations of the company’s user agreement, including the “newsworthiness” of the tweet.
In the end, “Tweets get right to the point with the information or thoughts that matter,” the company said of the 280-character tweet test. “That is something we will never change.”