How SMS Inspired the Launch of Twitter

Lots of you often ask ‘why 160 characters?’. The simple answer is that this is a restriction set by the networks, but this wasn’t good enough for the team at FireText HQ so we investigated a little further…

We discovered that back in 1985 a German engineer, Friedhelm Hillebrand sat alone in his room on his typewriter writing random sentences to try and determine the length needed for a text message. When counting the characters and words he found that for most sentences or questions, 160 characters were “perfectly sufficient”, this limit still remains for a single text message.

Fast-forward 21 years the idea of Twitter was born during a daylong brainstorming session amongst colleagues and friends. Jack Dorsey first described the idea as ‘a service that uses SMS to tell small groups what you are doing’ everyone in the group used SMS and got the idea instantly and along with co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone the idea was developed.


When the group first launched to the public following months of testing, most people were still paying for SMS and the worry was that users would run up high phone bills. A re-brand to a few months later and although there was no character limit on the system, the team decided to put a restriction on the length of characters to ensure it remained with the 160 characters, they settled on 140 to leave room for the username and that limit still remains today!

That description made by Jack on the day that Twitter was born is still very much the idea that drives FireText. Whether it’s a promotion or a reminder you have to communicate, our aim is to provide a service which uses SMS and enables you to tell your customers what you are doing. It’s that simple.

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