Twitter is tinkering with its most iconic feature. The 140-character limit that’s practically synonymous with the service is getting retooled, according to a report in Re/Code. But rather than boosting the per-tweet limit to 200 or even 500 characters, Twitter is reportedly going all out and extending the limit to 10,000.
The as-yet-unconfirmed new limit would turn tweets into something more like blog posts, with each one being displayed as a 140-character, expandable preview in the Twitter timeline.
The debate over the maximum length of tweets has been going on for a long time. The character limit, a byproduct of the product’s early limitations as an SMS-based service, is considered outdated by many users. To others, the forced brevity is part of what makes Twitter, well, Twitter.
“When they first started the service, it was 160 characters, but then they took 20 characters away because they needed to be able to send you the username of the person who tweeted,” says Nick Bilton, the New York Times columnist who wrote the seminal book chronicling the early days of Twitter. “But the technologies surrounding the premise of this product have changed.”
Bilton, who told us in October that he doesn’t favor a character limit increase, points out that SMS text messages effectively no longer have a character limit, since long messages are sent as a series of texts on feature phones (and are not broken down into 160 characters on smartphones at all). In the first quarter of last year, 4.6 million users were said to be SMS-only, mostly in emerging markets like Brazil in India. Twitter currently reports 320 million active users overall.
Upon learning of the rumor, Twitter users did what they always do: They tweeted. Some expressed outrage, others sarcasm. Lots of people made jokes. A few even posed thoughtful questions and shared insights without being snarky or mad! Here are some of the best responses from users, doled out 140 characters at a time…for now:
Update: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted this partial clarification on the 10,000 character rumor, saying that the service “will never lose” the “creativity and brevity” enabled by the 140-character limit. But, he added, the company has observed users posting screenshots of blocks of text to get around the character limit and is considering letting such blocks become searchable and easily highlighted by allowing users to post actual text, rather than images of text. He also expressed his admiration for tweet storms. Dorsey said all of this and more, ironically enough, in a screenshot.