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Twitter’s 280 character test flight worth watching

By Tim Hennagir

Twitter’s recent announcement regarding selective testing of an expanded character limit is a clear sign the company is getting ready to take true wing with experimentation.

The test initiated with small groups around the world. The company has not said if all users will have recent future, but recently, two insiders at the social media giant shed some light on what’s new inside the nest of the little blue bird.

In a blog post, Product Manager Aliza Rosen and Senior Software Engineer Ikuhiro Ihara penned the following: “We want to be transparent about why we are excited to try this,” the pair wrote. “We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we're doing something new: we're going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).”

Twitter’s 140-character limit is a holdover from the app’s early days. It has remained one of the product’s defining characteristics. Brevity was the name of the posting game, with posts being crafted creatively and succinctly.

However, the iconic 140-character limit impacts the frequency of sharing, and on Twitter, unlike other social media platforms, posting a series of tweets back-to-back was acceptable. That practice may require a second thought if use of the 280 character limit becomes widespread.

For journalists, continuing to send a flurry of fluttering tweets designed to share information on a development story probably won’t go the way of the dodo, but live tweeting will likely change.

Twitter says it will collect data on how the test goes before pushing the change out to all users. It will not give more characters to users tweeting in Japanese, Chinese or Korean, but users who tweet in all others languages could make it into the test group.

“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. “But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint. We are excited to share this, and we will keep you posted about what we see and what comes next.”

Watching Twitter users retrain their brains and take advantage of the extra characters will be enlightening to say the least if 280 characters becomes common, but the recent announcement should not have come as a social media surprise.

In early April, the company rolled out Twitter Lite, a new mobile web experience which minimizes data usage, loads quickly on slower connections, and is resilient on unreliable mobile networks.

Patrick Traughber, another Twitter product manager, wrote, “Every day, millions of people around the world use Twitter to see what’s happening right now. We optimized it for speed, with up to 30 percent faster launch times as well as quicker navigation.”

If Twitter goes through with its character enhancement plan on a broad scale, it will create a core service chain, a landmark event in the company’s 11-year history.

The 140-character constraint has served as a electronic enforcer — at least until the past year or two, when tweetstorms become common.

The dictionary definition of twitter was “a short burst of inconsequential information,” and 'chirps from birds.” That’s changing as Twitter takes a huge step in encouraging more people to post and use its service by increasing its message character limit.

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