Since its founding, Twitter's 140 character tweet limit has been sacrosanct. That won't be the case in a few months, though. Twitter has announced a plan to exempt certain @names and media links from the character count. Retweets and the way conversations are broadcast will also change. It's actually a bit complicated.

Here are the four changes as described by Twitter.

  • Replies: When replying to a Tweet, @names will no longer count toward the 140-character count. This will make having conversations on Twitter easier and more straightforward, no more penny-pinching your words to ensure they reach the whole group.
  • Media attachments: When you add attachments like photos, GIFs, videos, polls, or Quote Tweets, that media will no longer count as characters within your Tweet. More room for words!
  • Retweet and Quote Tweet yourself: We’ll be enabling the Retweet button on your own Tweets, so you can easily Retweet or Quote Tweet yourself when you want to share a new reflection or feel like a really good one went unnoticed.
  • Goodbye, [email protected]: These changes will help simplify the rules around Tweets that start with a username. New Tweets that begin with a username will reach all your followers. (That means you’ll no longer have to use the [email protected]” convention, which people currently use to broadcast Tweets broadly.) If you want a reply to be seen by all your followers, you will be able to Retweet it to signal that you intend for it to be viewed more broadly.

They sound very cheerful, don't they? To really understand what's going on, you need to be aware there's a difference between a reply and a tweet that starts with an @name. So, when all this goes into effect, a reply to another tweet will no longer count the @names toward your character limit. It's a noble intention, but I worry it could get messy. How many @names are exempt? It's hard to tell from the wording. The @names in regular tweets will still count.

All regular (non-reply) tweets that start with an @name will be handled differently. Those will now be broadcast publicly, which eliminates the "[email protected]" workaround people have been using. Weirdly, this is similar to how Twitter worked years ago. They actually removed this feature because it caused too much noise (you currently only see these tweets if you follow the tweeter and the person they mention). Replies now won't be shown. So, this is an interesting step... backward? Sideways? Diagonally backward? Whatever.

Twitter_May24

Media attachments won't count against you in any tweet. So, you can add images, polls, videos, and so on without eating into your character count. There was previously a rumor that all links would be exempt, but that doesn't appear to be happening yet. Twitter's native media attachment limits should at least keep links from getting out of hand.

The last bit is pretty straightforward—you'll be able to retweet yourself. Why? To add more thoughts to something with the previous tweet as a reference. It makes more sense than you might think at first. Sometimes tweets feel very disembodied until you track down the context in a previous tweet.

Twitter says this is all rolling out over the coming months. It's working with developers to make sure everything goes smoothly during the transition. It'll be interesting to see if all these changes stick.