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Twitter says people are tweeting more, but not longer, with 280-character limit

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It turns out, 280-character tweets aren’t the end of all that’s good about Twitter. On a call with investors this morning, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that the expanded tweet length hasn’t actually changed the length of messages people are sending out — but it has led to more engagement.

“One of the things we were watching for is to see if the if the average tweet size would go up as a result, and it has not,” he said. “People do have the room — we’re seeing less abandonment of tweets. But we’re also seeing a lot more engagement. We’re also seeing more retweets, and we’re seeing a lot more mentions. And we’re also seeing people get more followers and return more often.”

It’s possible Dorsey was speaking colloquially here; doubling the character count really ought to increase the average tweet length by at least a small amount. But if you look back at a vague, mostly unlabeled graph Twitter released a few months ago, it seems to illustrate what he’s saying: the typical tweet has remained the same length — less than 50 characters. It’s really only the tweets that were already going to be at or close to 140 that have increased in length.

Twitter said back in November, when it expanded 280-character tweets to everyone, that it saw similar behavior from people in a test group with access to the expanded character count. “We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they tweeted more easily and more often,” Aliza Rosen, a Twitter product manager, wrote at the time. “But importantly, people tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained.”

Asked for clarification on Dorsey’s comments, a Twitter spokesperson pointed us back to Rosen’s blog post, saying the results of the experiments described there show “that the average length of a Tweet hasn’t really changed.”

It seems that’s remained true now that the feature has expanded to all users. And while monthly users on Twitter have largely stalled, Twitter indicated that the effects of switching to 280 have helped it keep people around. “We do believe that it’s minimizing some of the complexities and some of the confusion around Twitter in general,” Dorsey said this morning.