Regarding Twitter’s Character Count Changes

On the heels of Bloomberg’s report from last week, Todd Sherman, writing on Twitter’s weblog:

So, you can already do a lot in a Tweet, but we want you to be able to do even more. In the coming months we’ll make changes to simplify Tweets including what counts toward your 140 characters, so for instance, @names in replies and media attachments (like photos, GIFs, videos, and polls) will no longer “use up” valuable characters.

A few things worth noting:

  • Replies will not appear in your followers’ timelines, only mentions.
  • If you follow a lot of users you can expect a more cluttered timeline, but I think you’ll find the vast majority of tweets that start with a username are initiated with the reply button.
  • Only the usernames of whom you’re replying aren’t counted. If you reply to a thread between myself and @_GKeenan, but mention @mattbirchler, Matt’s username is the only one that will count toward the total characters.
  • Twitter is opening up new APIs to third-party developers so they’ll be able to use these new features at launch.

I’ve seen a lot of outrage in my timeline since this announcement — all of it directed toward the changes to mentions. Users don’t want cluttered timelines and I completely understand that complaint. But I think you’ll be surprised at how few tweets that start with a username are initiated without the reply button — I don’t think Twitter would have made this change if that wasn’t the case.

Newer users might not remember this, but replies and mentions used to all appear in your followers’ timelines. There was outcry when it changed because it was how many users found new people to follow — when you noticed a new username frequently appearing in your timeline, you followed them. I think this will become commonplace again and users will grow to love it.

Update: Since publishing, I’ve seen a lot of confusion regarding this bit from BuzzFeed News’ reporting of Twitter’s changes:

Within the next few months, the company will stop counting photos, polls, quote tweets, and GIFs toward its 140-character limit. It will also stop counting “@names” in replies toward the limit, with a ceiling of 50 @names.

That “ceiling of 50 names” only matters specifically for replies. In order for usernames not to count toward your 140-characters, you’d have to reply to a thread that included 50 other users. It’s not as if spammers could just add 50 arbitrary names to a tweet and send it out without restriction.

This could mean that spammers will seek out threads with many users in order to spam-reply to the whole lot. But is that any more annoying than when they send a reply to a single user? In practice, I don’t expect this to add much to an abusive user’s arsenal.