Why Are Tweets Only 140 Characters Long?
Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp

The good news is that Twitter is planning to lift its 140-character limit for tweets. But that just raises a different question: why did that limit exist in the first place?

It’s because Twitter started out via SMS. At the time, SMS carriers had a cap of 160 characters on each message, but Twitter reserved 20 characters for usernames. That’s why tweets were limited to 140 characters.

But hold on. There’s more to the story!

The idea for the micro-blogging service came from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s fascination with how a city functions in real time. He mapped the city’s support systems — from emergency services to vehicle dispatches — through the lens of the Web.

And guess what that gave him? A rich picture of a city in motion. But there was something missing from the picture: people, the one element that made the city come alive.

Dorsey’s idea of creating a type of digital dispatch service gained momentum when he signed up for a LiveJournal account in 2000. From that point it was a matter of finding the right medium, and that medium happened to be the humble SMS protocol, which in turn brought the 140 character limit.

Of course, a lot more behind-the-scenes work went on before the Twitter we know was born. Here’s a snapshot of Twitter’s beginnings:


So do you think the 140-character limit is a good thing? Does Twitter need that constraint to stop people from rambling? Or should Twitter let people send out longer tweets without having to use third-party services? Share your take in the comments.

Image Credits: GongTo / Shutterstock.com, jack dorsey via Compfight cc

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!

Enter your Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Anonymous
    October 6, 2015 at 7:11 am

    Parse out usernames, urls, images, and allow for 140 chars for the text. Anymore than that and instead of having short, to the point tweets, people will go to twitter and write novels about their feelings. The days of quick witted tweets or to the point opinions will be gone. We already get long tirades of fact-less and opinionated drivel on Facebook.

    • Anonymous
      October 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm

      I agree with you Chris. That would allow around 20 extra characters on most tweets. I find 99% of the time I'm only wanting or needing another half-dozen or so.

    • Tawseef Rahman
      February 20, 2016 at 1:25 am

      Completely on point, Chris!

  2. Anonymous
    October 5, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    As a writer, I've come to love the limitation because it forces me to focus on what I really want to say and I think I've become a better writer for it. Another thing I love about the limit is that it allows what I call 'drive by conversation'. You can have a lot of meaningful interaction with several people in a short time frame - it helps me see we're all going through a lot of the same stuff.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 6, 2015 at 3:38 am

      I'm with you on that, Robyn. Constraints are good. They force you to get more creative. I'm increasingly convinced that this long-tweet thing will turn out to be a nightmare. Those 'drive-by conversations' you mentioned have made Twitter what it is. But who knows how this will turn out eventually?

  3. Anonymous
    October 5, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    .Honestly I always thought they needed to increase the limit by a bit( (anything less than 200) but they essentially there are a MICRO blogging site so the word limit make sense.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 6, 2015 at 3:40 am

      Absolutely, Jagdesh. Stretching the limit a bit would be good. Taking it away? We already have enough blogs for long-form content.

  4. Anonymous
    October 5, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    There have been times where I felt burned by only being able to post 140 characters, but I know if the limit is gone then we'll get long long posts by some people. I'm not so much against that as I am as it stifling communication. People will stop reading the long tweets. People will stop visiting Twitter because of the long posts. Maybe up it to like 140 words or something but still keep a generally small limit?

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 5, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      I agree with you, Leah. The short length of tweets has been part of Twitter's charm so far. A slightly raised limit will definitely be much better than the no-limit feature. But then again these things seem unpredictable. For all we know, the change might be well received.

  5. Anonymous
    October 5, 2015 at 10:44 am

    People will continue to use shortened words regardless of what the character limit is. If people can still send long tweets by using a third party service, I see no point in having a limit.

    I personally don't use twitter myself, so it doesn't concern me at all.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 5, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      Although there are people sending out long tweets now, their number might increase significantly once long tweets become a default feature and its essence as a micro-blogging service will be diluted. Either way, we can just wait and watch :) The new feature will be here soon...