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Twitter to Loosen Its 140-Character Limit

Every social network stands out in some way, and Twitter’s defining feature has been its strict 140-character limit, a byproduct of the service’s SMS-based origins. That enforced brevity helps keep conversations concise and your timeline hopping. On the downside, it’s challenging to compose thoughtful messages in so little space, leading to confusion, misunderstanding, excessive use of abbreviations, and worse.

It’s thus big news that Twitter will soon loosen the 140-character restriction, if only slightly.

Over the next few months, Twitter will stop counting various standard bits of text in the character limit. Links to media attachments, such as photos, polls, and videos, as well as @names in replies, will no longer count against the character limit. That should relieve a little of the pressure when composing posts.

Twitter users will also experience another important change when using @names. As it stands now, if you begin a tweet with an @name, that tweet enters the timelines of only those people who follow both you and the person you’re mentioning. The idea was that you were either addressing that person directly or replying to them, so the tweet shouldn’t be public. Many people, at least those who understood it, disliked the effect and circumvented the policy by prefixing tweets that should both be public and mention someone with a period, like so:

.@glennf is working on a book about Slack!

When this change goes into place, new tweets starting with an @name will be seen by all of your followers. However, the change won’t apply to replies, so if you reply to a tweet and maintain a conversation, it will still be visible only to your followers and their followers. This nuance also means that if you follow an account that replies regularly, like @AppleSupport, your timeline won’t be flooded with unwanted messages.

Finally, Twitter plans to let you retweet and quote your own tweets, so you can repost tweets overlooked by followers who weren’t hanging on your every word. You’ll also be able to retweet your replies that begin with @name if you want all of your followers to see them.

These changes are long overdue and should make it easier to have discussions on Twitter. Unfortunately, the changes may not help Twitter’s financial outlook much: after Twitter revealed the new tweaks, Twitter analyst Michael Nathanson downgraded Twitter’s stock rating to “sell,” saying, “Hope is not a strategy.” Ouch.

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