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Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009 at 11:20 am

Is 140 Characters a Magic Number?

By Bryan Eisenberg
February 25th, 2009

Jeffrey and I were having a discussion about Twitter. Mind you, Jeffrey doesn’t Twitter. I do. He says he has never felt comfortable at small talk. Even though he does do Facebook updates occasionally. Help us settle our discussion (read brotherly argument) about whether or not Twitter would have worked with 70 characters, 210 characters or any other number.

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Comments (36)

  1. No way it would have worked with 70. I’m just getting started on Twitter and I still have a difficult time keeping it to 140, I’m sure I’ll get better at it but I feel like I’m always 2 characters over so I think I would have preferred more characters. 210 sounds perfect! I also think it would be a good idea to let direct messages be a little longer if they want to keep updates to 140 characters.

  2. I think 140 is perfect. It IS tough sometimes to fit a thought in just 140 characters, but that’s the point! It makes you really think about what you’re about to say, shorten it to the most concise phrase possible, before you send it.

    I love that about Twitter…

  3. 140 characters was chosen to fit with mobile devices, so more would not have worked. Any less, and you risk turning even more people away. I like it where it is.

  4. on a numerologist’s note, 140/42 = 3.333333

    a sign?

    on a techie note, I thought SMS (text) messages were limited to the dreaded 255 character limit, which also happens to be a hard limit for text fields in most database systems. Why wasn’t 255 used as a limit for a tweet? it’s only 30 chars short of 2 tweets

    My 0.2EUR from across the pond

    – Julien

  5. Less is more. 50 is enough. PLUS URL field

  6. what character?
    my-key or done-all/duck!

  7. 70 characters would definitely be a challenge, while 210 is too much. I think 120 including a tiny url would have to be the minimum…

  8. It would be a better world out there if they allowed 157 characters :-P

  9. 140 was chosen to fit with the limit for text messages. That is a good number because text messages were already familiar to many people. I believe it was the best choice.

    Personally, I wish it were limited to 70. I never use the whole 140 and think with would make for better tweets at a lower character count.

  10. 140 is magical. Discussion over. It worked – and that’s what matters. I also find when it comes to brothers; the more attractive you are, the more succinctly you’re able to speak.

  11. I think this discussion is interesting; however, because the 140 character is a technical limitation imposed by the mobile carriers as part of the Global System for Mobile Communications standard, a bit useless. Unless Twitter moves away from supporting SMS (which would be crazy), we all just need to rise to the challenge and remember that brevity is best.

  12. I think this was an effort to save resources. Think drink refills. If they make the drinks just the right size, they can get you to finish only two during your visit. This is a similar effect, enough to say what you want, but not enough to clog up databases.

  13. Side question: does anyone “know” why twitter works? (I don’t)

  14. Maybe our web pages should consist of Twitter like texts: http://bit.ly/eZhix
    As people scan instead of read.

  15. I find I am always 2 characters short – but then again, I’ve been accused of talking too much so that fits.

    I really have come to believe that 140 characters works perfectly. Any longer and it’s too long. 140 is perfect for skimming.

  16. My only concern is if and when Tweets end up written in TXT LNGUAGE 2 KP IT SHORT! C YA!
    :(

  17. Depesh, look at 140it.com and cry ;-)

  18. oh, fantastic…! LOL

  19. Know your audience. For email subject lines suggestion of 50 characters for powerful and emotive while 80 characters for enticing. So perhaps their is some application of the theory on twitter too.

  20. You know, I have actually thought about that number myself. But, it seems to work. At first it seemed way to short, then – under the would you believe category – I found myself having trouble FILLING IT UP. I like having to think more briefly – in a sense if you think like a copywriter who must generate enticing headlines – the same is true here if you want people to continue to follow you.

    You can follow me @spiritedwoman. Let me know what you think. Nancy

  21. I like 140. Just enough. Forces me to be succinct. Less would make it difficult to express complete thoughts. More would be excessive for purpose.

  22. I like the Swedish microblog service Bloggy.se. It has the 140 limit only on first “tweet”, but comments on the tweet has no character limitations. This has the effect of stimulation discussions, which tend to be quite lively at Bloggy. :-)

  23. Even 140 seems a little low, but then again some people like to talk a lot.

  24. i think 140 was chosen to fit with the limit for text messages. That is a good number because text messages were already familiar to many people. I believe it was the best choice.

  25. Although the 140 limit is exactly the same as text messages it feels like it is much less. The difference between using keyboard or numbers on a cell phone is the problem. You can type much more in the same time.

  26. I do not think that it is the magic number. I am an avid text messager and I get more than 140 characters (160 to be exact) and that is never enough for me.

    I’m not a fan of small talk either. Imagine if we were limited to 140 characters in everyday speaking life? No good.

    I do not use Twitter. Blogs suit me better where i can use as many characters as my little heart desires :)

    -Caroline

  27. There was a lot of research that went in on the 140 char rule. I believe it’s the same for SMS texts. I believe it started back in the telegraph days where that many characters was the least amount necessary to accurately get across almost all english messages.

  28. I looked back on my last 20 SMS messages and they were all less than 140 chars, so I don’t see any reason to have more in Twitter.

  29. the 140 character limit is so that it fits in SMS messages

  30. I dont know. I personally hate twitter. I rather focus my efforts on search engine optimization. It seems that twitter is full of spam messages that nobody ever checks.

  31. Never really got into Twitter that much, but who is to say what is the limit of a Tweet and what isn’t. Twitter doesn’t necessarily have any more or less spam @Brad, but in the end people are going to use it for what they will.

  32. Looking at the huge success of Twitter there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that whether 140 chars work or not.

  33. I think 140 is perfect. It IS tough sometimes to fit a thought in just 140 characters, but that’s the point! It makes you really think about what you’re about to say, shorten it to the most concise phrase possible, before you send it.

  34. Looking at the huge success of Twitter there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that whether 140 chars work or not.

  35. I do not think that it is the magic number. I am an avid text messager and I get more than 140 characters (160 to be exact) and that is never enough for me.

  36. 70 characters would definitely be a challenge, while 210 is too much. I think 120 including a tiny url would have to be the minimum…

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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