By Kurt Wagner and Jason Del Rey
September 29, 2015
Twitter is building a new product that will allow users to share tweets that are longer than the company’s 140-character limit, according to multiple people familiar with the company’s plans.
It’s unclear what the product will look like, but sources say it would enable Twitter users to publish long-form content to the service. Users can already tweet out blocks of text with products like OneShot, but those are simply images, not actual text published on Twitter. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.
The 140-character limit has been one of Twitter’s trademark features since day one. It has long been scrutinized by those outside the company, and many have argued over the years that Twitter should expand it. It has also been a topic of discussion internally at Twitter for years, according to multiple sources, and has resurfaced in recent months under interim CEO Jack Dorsey as the company has been exploring new ways to grow its user base.
In addition to the long-form product, execs have been openly discussing the idea of tweaking how Twitter measures its 140-character limit by removing things like links and user handles from the count, multiple sources say. In the past, Twitter has tinkered with the limit in other ways. Twitter Cards are still beholden to the 140-character limit but are intended to help people (and advertisers) share lots of information, and Twitter added a “retweet with comment” option in April to give people more room to comment on tweets they share. The company also lifted the 140-character rule on private messages back in June.
Dorsey is apparently supportive of a potential change, a bold stance and yet another sign that he isn’t simply keeping the CEO seat warm until Twitter finds someone permanent.
“People have been very precious at Twitter about what Twitter can be and how much it can be evolved,” said one current senior employee. “Having Jack come in and say it’s okay makes all the difference in the world.”
Twitter is desperate to find new ways to attract users to the product. On his first earnings call as CEO, Dorsey was critical of some of the company’s most recent product changes and expressed the need for Twitter to reach a more mainstream audience. Tweaking the character count or allowing for longer tweets are ways to try and do that. The question is whether or not a long-form option would actually increase Twitter’s audience. It might encourage publishers to share directly to Twitter more often, but long-form publishing on other platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn is typically more of a power feature.
As with all early products, there’s a chance the long-form feature may never make it to consumers. But Twitter is looking to mix things up, and tweaking its character limit would certainly do the trick.