"Who lets users talk the most?" - news sites & comment character counts

 by Martin Belam, 27 May 2011

If this blog post was a press release, it might end up generating stories that start:

“The BBC are stifling free speech by imposing draconian limits on the way users can comment on their websites, according to a recent survey.”

My curiosity was piqued by the controversy surrounding the decision to drastically reduce the number of characters users could submit as a comment on the BBC News site to 400. [1]

And so I thought I'd carry out a quick survey of character limits across a range of UK and US news sites, and compare that with some popular blogs and social media sites. Naturally, as he had been so vocal about it during the course of the BBC Social Media Summit, I included Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine blog.

In order to carry out the test I made a text file that contained 10,000 characters of automatically generated “lorem ipsum”, with markings in it every 500 characters. If you want to test other sites yourself, you can download the test file here.

Of those platforms that accepted 10,000 characters or more, the computer nerd in me assumes that infrastructure and database limitations must impose an upper limit eventually, but there doesn’t seem a great deal of value in trying to discover exactly where that is. After all, if you can’t get your point over in your first 10,000 characters...

The BBC say their limit is designed to improve the quality of contributions. It is notably less than the number of characters allowed in a Facebook status update, and very similar to YouTube’s limit of 500 characters. And we all know the great quality of debate you get on YouTube.

Here are the results of my testing:

WebsiteCharacter limit in comments
BBC News400
Facebook (status update)420
Daily Mail1,000
Huffington Post [2]c. 1,800
The Sun2,000
The Times3,000
Washington Post3,000
The Guardian5,000
New York Times5,000
Facebook (comment)8,000
Al Jazeera10,000+
Boing Boing10,000+
Buzz Machine10,000+
Daily Express10,000+
The Telegraph10,000+

(For the record, on this blog, Movable Type will accept 10,000+ characters, but a good rule of thumb is that if you’ve written more than I did in the original article, you are probably trolling)

[1] On stage at the BBC Social Media Summit, Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC World Service, was certain the limit was 400 words. It is not, it is 400 characters. [Return to article]

[2] The actual limit imposed on Huffington Post is 250 words, which equated to 1,820 characters of my lorem ipsum file. [Return to table]

1 Comment

I see The Economist didn't make your list - I've been commenting there for a while and so far I haven't encountered a problem with the length of post though mine probably don't exceed 500 words - this is my comments page. I find that the comments are often as good a read as the article itself but I don't think a comment needs to be more than 1000 words (which is a lot of words) and I do tend to skim over the longer ones wishing that the author would be more concise.

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