But Twitter liberated itself of other technical constraints of SMS texting long ago. Almost all of its users view the service through a desktop client or a smartphone app. And as the writer Paul Ford has detailed for Bloomberg Businessweek, a tweet as an entry in a database already far exceeds 140 characters. As far as Twitter-the-software is concerned, tweets tote all sorts of metadata as they travel around, including the user’s avatar, the number of hearts that a tweet has, and (sometimes) its tweeter’s latitude and longitude.
The 23-character penalty for attaching an image or a URL has also gotten increasingly severe. When Twitter began shortening all links posted to its service, it only docked 20 characters for each shortened URL. Within a couple years, it had lengthened the shortened URLs to 23 characters.
With this change, Twitter will take a step that it has so far avoided, as it moves the main content of a tweet out of the main 140 into its metadata. But by one measure, it has also already done that. Since 2014, it has permitted users to post four photos to a tweet—even though the tweet itself would only contain one photo-associated URL.
If Twitter really does ago ahead and adopt the feature, it might next consider cutting more ancillary content from tweets. Perhaps usernames will not count against the critical 140, or hashtags will be stricken. (The company has hinted at taking either of those steps for years.)
Regardless, if Twitter users keep tweeting happy thoughts, the new feature will emerge as the kind of feel-good news story that the company badly needs. It hasn’t had many of them lately. In January, rumors emerged that the company would allow 10,000-character tweets (really, it was going to allow attached block quotes) and users rebelled. On its earnings call last month, an investor asked Twitter executives whether bad press was hurting its prospects. There’s been a sense for many years that the company doesn’t really know how to continue to advance its product and can only annoy its main users.
Of course, expanding the 140 won’t fix Twitter’s core problems: diminishing ad revenue, stagnant user growth, and a popular understanding that the service is more about public fighting than semi-private frivolity. And despite 36 months on the public market, profitability still eludes the world’s third-largest social network.
But maybe it’s working on those issues too—or, at least, bringing in new minds to consider them. On Monday, Twitter announced that it would add Debra Lee, the CEO of BET, to its board of directors. Though its user base is fairly equally gender-split, and it includes an unusually high number of people of color, Lee will only be its third female director and its first black director. She has her work cut out for her.