Social Media Strategist
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Social Media marketing, strategy and professional development blog for Jon-Stephen Stansel, a social media strategist living in Austin, Texas.

The Global Reason for the Move to 280 Characters

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Twitter's expansion of the character limit is about international communication 

by- Jon-Stephen Stansel

Like most of us, I was upset by the news that Twitter is expanding the 140 character limit to 280. For years, I’ve enjoyed the brevity and cherished the crafting Tweets to have the maximum impact within the 140 character limit.

However, looking at Twitter’s reasoning behind this decision, I think this is a great move. This is a decision based on data showing that Twitter users who Tweet in languages like Japanese, Korean, and Chinese Tweet more than those who Tweet in languages that use Roman characters. Essentially, because of the pictograph character base of the written languages of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, these users can convey more information within the character limit.

This has been something that has always interested me about the global use of Twitter that not a lot of people have addressed until now and I think the fact that Twitter is using this data to change something that has been at the heart of the platform since its creation is nothing short of amazing.

Now here’s a wild idea.

This might also be because Twitter wants to leap into the Chinese market.

Hear me out on this.

Right now, Twitter is blocked in China and the primary social networks are China-based. But, Twitter could be looking to change that…or at least attract more Chinese business to the platform. As more international companies are expanding into China and Chinese companies are attempting to expand globally, this move will provide a simpler method when Tweets are translated.

I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say you run social media for a Chinese company. You speak both English and Chinese. You craft a message in Chinese for Twitter and it hits 140 perfectly. You then translate it into English and you run 80 characters over. What gives?  Sure, you can rewrite the Tweet, but excuse the cliché, something gets lost in translation. This is even more problematic when you factor in the purchasing of Twitter ads. Twitter wants to make the process as simple as possible.  Upping the Roman character based language character limit eases this translation process greatly.

This is all speculation, but I think this is a line of reasoning that is being ignored as we lament the loss of our precious 140 character tradition. Twitter has already changed language and how we communicate in so many ways. This is a continuation of that. The fact that this decision was largely made based on how non-English speakers use the platform is wonderful and shows how Twitter is thinking globally. I know I am probably overly optimistic, but I love how this platform brings the world closer together and this is a great example of it.

We have to remember, it’s a big world out there and an even bigger internet. And it’s not always about those of us who only speak English.

But I still want an edit button.