Twitter CEO Winks at Change to 140-Character Limit

Expansion Is Likely an Attempt to Keep Twitter's Audience on Twitter

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Twitter HQ
Twitter HQ Credit: Aaron Durand/Twitter, Inc.

Twitter might soon let people post tweets that are longer than 140 characters. Extra characters will likely be shoved into expandable cards.

That's the 140-character version of what happened in the Twitterverse on Tuesday. Here's the slightly longer version:

On Tuesday Re/code reported that Twitter is considering expanding the number of characters people can include in a tweet from 140 to potentially 10,000. For an idea of how long a 10,000-character tweet would be, Quartz pulled an example from Homer's "The Illiad."

If Twitter does away with the 140-character limit, that would be a big change and, per Re/code, one that could happen by the end of the first quarter of 2016 (also known as by the end of March). Hours later Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey indirectly addressed the report with a tweet that included zero characters and a picture that contained way more than 140 characters.

Based on Mr. Dorsey's tweet, Twitter appears to have noticed that people have found ways to get around Twitter's 140-character limit. For example, someone might want to share a quote from an article that's longer than 140 characters, so that person can take a screenshot of the quote and append the photo to a tweet. Or they can string together a 1,400-character diatribe into a series of 10 or more tweets, commonly called a "tweetstorm." Or they can post their longer thoughts elsewhere, like on Medium or Tumblr or WordPress, and then tweet a link to that post. These are things people already do, but Twitter thinks it can offer a better option to share thoughts that can't be easily contained in 140 characters.

Twitter's plan seems to be adding a text version of the expandable cards it already uses to display videos, photos and article previews that are appended to a tweet. As Re/code reported, people would see the normal 140-character-max tweet in their stream with one of these cards embedded below it that they can click on to expand and see characters 141 and up.

That would could appease people who want to tweet more than 140 characters without making checking Twitter into a flip through The New Yorker. Perhaps more importantly to Twitter, if people opt to publish these longer posts natively on Twitter, it would also help the company keep its audience on Twitter, where Twitter can show them ads and make some money, instead of driving them elsewhere where it can't.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on the news at any character length.

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