How many characters do you tweet?

I’m fresh back from CHI2010. Unlike our friends from the EU who were left stranded in Atlanta (and surviving off the good graces of GVU faculty, students and staff. Several trapped students received some extra travel assistance from SIGCHI…if you’re not a SIGCHI member, you should join). On the Sunday, there was a great workshop on microblogging where I had a great conversation with many people, one of whom was Michael Bernstein. We began to wonder, yes there’s 140 character limit, but how many characters do people actually type? Since I happened to have about 1.5 million tweets on hand and a little bit of R knowledge I did a quick investigation at the coffee break.

This is really not the distribution either of us expected. Clearly the bulk of tweets are around 40 characters long. But it’s really curious to see the large set of tweets that are verbose. More so, the exactly 140 count is high. I’d imagine the >135 character spike results from people trimming down verbose tweets to fit into the post size limit.

Are your a tweeter that walks the line or are your tweets short and concise? I wonder if Naaman’s meformers tweet a different distribution when compared to the informers.

9 thoughts on “How many characters do you tweet?

  1. Judd

    Wow. Super cool. I’m definitely that person trimming my tweets down to barely make the limits. But I’m kind of a n00b at Twitter. Does average characters per tweet decline the more someone uses Twitter? My guess would be yes. Veteran tweeters get better at the genre, expressing themselves using the tiny textual norms of the Twitterverse?

  2. Liangjie Hong

    Another interesting thing is, in different languages, 140 “characters” would mean totally different things. For example, in Chinese, it represents 140 “words” (usually, you need 140+ ~ 200 English words to translate them). Therefore, just in my own case, most Chinese tweets contain a lot more information than English tweets.

  3. ayman Post author

    Liangjie Hong: I forgot to mention, i removed all the ‘high byte’ character sets before making this graph for that very reason, so this is latin encoding only.

  4. naaman

    Very cool. Do you wish to tell us what type of dataset you explored? Do you think the dataset you looked at had any impact on the histogram, or do you think any collection of tweets will give us the same results?

  5. ayman Post author

    I ran the graph against every twitter dataset I had, it always fit this shape regardless of the dataset’s size or focus (public timeline samples to event specific). I’m not at liberty to disclose the nature of these tweets beyond the sample size.

  6. Sarah

    It would also be interesting to see how many of those are retweets – that “RT @user” adds a few characters, so the length of the original tweet is actually less. We know that there are a lot of retweets floating around out there…

  7. Amy

    Wow. Super cool. I’m definitely that person trimming my tweets down to barely make the limits. But I’m kind of a n00b at Twitter. Does average characters per tweet decline the more someone uses Twitter? My guess would be yes. Veteran tweeters get better at the genre, expressing themselves using the tiny textual norms of the Twitterverse?

  8. Fabian

    Another explanation for the tweets >135 characters could be from software that automatically breaks longer messages into multiple tweets.

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