What Can You Say In 160 Characters?

If you are a person of few words, then text messaging was absolutely made for you. For the rest of us poor stiffs, however, it can be a challenge to get our point across using a mere 160 characters. Ha! It can be tough enough to say what’s on our minds with just 160 words, never mind characters!

Why text messages are limited to just 160 characters is one of those questions found in the same category as wondering who was the first person who saw a snail crawling on a wall and said “You know something? That looks good enough to eat!”

In any event, let’s take a look at the origins of the 160 character limit, why it is as it is, why it hasn’t changed, and how you can work within that constraint.

It’s All Freidhlem Hillebrand’s Fault

According to the article “What’s the Scoop with the 160-character Limit?”, Hillebrand was one of the inventors of text messaging, and came up with the limit while noodling around on a typewriter, and realizing that the average line of text had about 160 characters. With limits in technology at the time, he felt that 160 characters were sufficient to get the message across, yet still be short enough to be transmitted on the equipment at the time.

Although technology has definitely improved over the last few decades, the limit remains because most carriers still use the special channel reserved for SMS transmissions, and that channel keeps message size limited to the old 160 character count.

As if the 160 limit isn’t tight enough, Twitter’s tweets are limited to 140 characters because the other 20 are reserved for the sender’s handle/name.

How Do You Work With These Limitations?

It all comes down to this: rather than trying to truncate words, where you run the risk of confusing people (e.g. “what does drk mean? Drink? Dark? Dork?”), or resorting to Internet speak, where you run the risk of coming across as a 14-year old, you choose your words carefully. Come to think of it, that’s good advice for speaking as well.

Sure, 160 characters isn’t much, and it’s even less when you consider the 140 counts for tweets, but there is still adequate space to get your point across without cutting corners. Hey, most mobile users’ attention spans are short anyway, so the character limit is a good idea on several levels.

Feel free to use certain symbols that are generally recognized as word replacements, such as the @ for the word “at”, an ampersand (&) for “and”, or shortening “with” to a simple “w/” to save space. Hey, every little space saved will matter in the long run!

If you really need more room to expand on your ideas, why not use a hyperlink that leads back to your website or social media page? If you’ve made your SMS text interesting and compelling enough, it stands a good chance of compelling readers to click on it.

Mobile usage is trending upwards, and texting is the favored means of communication among mobile users. That’s why it’s important to grasp how to best send SMS texts. If you have your own business, SMS texting can be a valuable tool for getting more subscribers and customers. Read “Getting Social With SMS” for more business insights.