Twitter users will have more liberty with the 140-character limit than ever before. On September 20, Twitter activated the changes that were announced in May 2016. So, from now on, Twitter will not count @mentions and links as part of the 140-character tweet.
The 140-character limit is now only on text, which means you can tweet longer, without worrying if the link or the number of people you're replying to would exhaust the character limit.
Besides @mentions in replies, other add ons such as photos, gifs, links and quotes will not be part of the character count anymore. For instance, in following tweet, the text in between @mention(s) and the link totals to 140 characters:
@mention @mention2 Hey there, I can tweet in 140 characters and also include a link or pic without having to compromise on what I have to say, isn't this cool? <link>
Besides this, Twitter has also eliminated the need to use a dot before “@” for tweets starting with a handle mention. Earlier, when a tweet began with a handle mention, only those who followed both–the person who tweeted and the mentioned handle–were able to see the tweet. Some Twitterati found their way around it and started using “.@” to tag other people and display the tweet to everyone.
The new roll-out also includes the option to retweet one's own tweet and use it as a quote. This feature is useful especially when a long message breaks down into two tweets.
The history of 140 characters
The micro-blogging platform has become immensely popular since its founding in 2006, and has more than 300 million users today.
Twitter's design was inspired from the US SMS system with the maximum character limit of 160 characters. The founders of Twitter—Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass and Biz Stone—reserved 20 characters for a username and the rest for the tweet. It soon became the USP of Twitter, which became the Word of the Year in 2009 and was defined as: “The ability to encapsulate human thought in 140 characters”.
Twitter: "The ability to encapsulate human thought in 140 characters" http://bit.ly/4GnFbZ— Biz Stone (@biz) January 15, 2010
Twitter, however, started off as twttr, in lieu of the SMS language at that time which eliminated the need for vowels to make up for lack of character space.
It took a few years for netizens to accept the 140-character limit. Experiencing frustration at not being able to fully express themselves, independent coders started projects to try and work a way around the limit—but not quite succeeding. Twitzer, for instance, launched in 2008 as a Firefox browser extension, truncated text to 140 characters and then provided a link to the rest of the tweet.
Later, several alternatives to Twitter hit the market. In May 2008, Plurk made an entry, boasting of a 210-character limit and an instant messaging feature. Identi.ca had nearly all the same features as Twitter when it began in July 2008, including the 140-character limit. Rejaw began in August 2008 on the Mac platform (followed later by a Windows version), allowing up to 1000 characters. It looked similar in design to Twitter, with 'shouts' (as tweets) and 'whispers' (as direct messaging).
In 2012, App.net was launched with a 256-character limit, while Keek (2010) was launched as a 'Twitter for videos'. For a while, even Tumblr was considered an alternative to Twitter because of its photo-posting option, before it became a unique blogging site in its own right.
But with Twitter incorporating newer features and growing, the competition remained stiff.
All this while, the users debated the ideal length of a tweet; some said it should be 200 characters, while others were convinced about 240 characters.
It was all put to rest when Jack Dorsey, months before he became permanent CEO of Twitter in 2015, tweeted:
After rolling out the changes to exclude handles and links from being counted in the character limit, it seems Twitter will stick to its 140-limit for text in tweets, no matter what.