Fury as Twitter doubles length of tweets

Droning on? Roughly 6,000 tweets are sent every second — or 500 million tweets per day.

Is brevity really the soul of wit? This week Twitter gave all its users 280 characters to play with, instead of 140. But many believe the site has lost its “unique selling point”.

“A short burst of inconsequential information.”

This definition inspired Jack Dorsey to choose the name “Twitter” for his new microblogging site. He settled on a limit of 140 characters.

But now Twitter has implemented its most important change so far. In September, it granted 5% of users 280 characters. This week, that was extended to everyone.

But the change has provoked a furious backlash. J.K. Rowling tweeted that: “The whole point, for me, was how inventive people could be within that concise framework.”

Longer forms of expression have declined in the last decade. The Royal Mail delivered 30% fewer letters and parcels in the UK in 2012 than 2005.

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius says: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Abraham Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg address is among the most quoted speeches in history. And Ernest Hemingway famously wrote an entire novel in six words: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

This stands in contrast with the work of French novelist Marcel Proust, whose work includes (in English translation) a 958-word sentence.

Twitter has been blamed for enflaming political tensions worldwide, and many believe its original character limit discouraged reasoned discussion in favour of simple slogans and put-downs. So is the site’s decision the right one?

To tweet or not to tweet

“Good things, when short, are twice as good” — as the great Spanish sage Baltasar Gracián said. And many agree.

Rubbish says Chris Knight, writing in Canada’s National Post. “A long sentence, carefully crafted, sinuously plotted, making perfect (and not mere perfunctory) use of language’s full, throatsome range of punctuation as well as its great rhombicuboctahedron of letters, is at once an edifice of towering and fragile beauty, and a song of deep and convoluted meaning.”

You Decide

  1. Is Twitter right to double the length of tweets?


  1. Sum up the above article, using no more than 280 characters. Then discuss: How easy did you find that? Is it better than the full article?

Some People Say...

“Never use a long word where a short one will do.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
After 11 years, Twitter has extended its character limit on tweets from 140 to 280. The change was first announced in September, when a few accounts were granted the extra characters as a trial.
What do we not know?
Whether Twitter’s decision will reverse the trend of reducing everything to small chunks. Could this signal the return of the 1,000-page novel or the six-hour play?

Word Watch

Gettysburg address
At the height of the American civil war in 1863, President Lincoln was invited to deliver remarks at the opening of the national cemetery at Gettysburg. The area was the site of one of the war’s bloodiest battles. His speech lasted less than three minutes.
Urban legend suggests Hemingway came up with the story on his own — but some have suggested he stole the idea from classified newspaper adverts.
A 958-word sentence
The sentence is in a controversial passage linking sexuality and Judaism. In French the word count is 847.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.