Tuesday Trivia: Why Texts Are Limited to 160 Characters

Tuesday Trivia: Why Texts Are Limited to 160 Characters

Taryn Williford
May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! It's convenient that the day we celebrate Mexico's victory over the French Army happens during that time of year when beautiful skies coincide with an empty afternoon and you're bound to find yourself outside on your buddy's patio with a cerveza in your hand. For nights like that, it's handy to have some trivia to impress your friends with. Like, hey, do you know why text messages are arbitrarily limited to 160 characters?

The reason those long-winded texts from your ex-lover are often split into two or three different messages (and yes, you'll get charged for each, just another reason to hate them) is because some dude had a typewriter and a lot of time.

Back in Germany in 1985, Friedhelm Hillebrand began to type random sentences on his typewriter. No word on exactly what he typed or why, but unconfirmed reports say it was something like "Zis 'Relax' song iz catchy!," followed by all the lyrics to the Frankie Goes to Hollywood catalog.

After he was done, he audited each individual sentence for the number of letters, numbers, punctuation marks and spaces. Most all of them came in at under 160 characters.

The LA Times reports that Hillebrand's next thought veered away from the brillance of 1980's music and into straight up mad foreign scientist territory:

"This is perfectly sufficient," he recalled thinking during that epiphany of 1985, when he was 45 years old. "Perfectly sufficient."

He was probably crazily repeating "Perfectly" and "Sufficient" in his head in different inflections for years afterward, but his contribution to text messaging will not be forgotten. And you can also let that friend who thinks micro-blogging is the best thing since macro-blogging know that Hillebrand is also repsonsible for Twitter's 140-character limit. Twitter's founders just gave themselves an extra 20 characters to allow for your username when you update with texts.

Via LA Times| Image: Flickr member karpov the wrecked train licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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