This week Twitter finally fixed its Direct Message syncing issue. Now when you read your messages – whether from your phone or computer – they will actually be marked as read. Convenient, right? The fix is a welcome one, but it’s been such an incredible frustration up to this point that Twitter hardly deserves thanks. Instead we’re willing to offer a “about time.”
The dysfunctional status has made them a joke, hardly a good status for what is actually a very necessary Twitter feature. Contacting someone with a simple @ tweet isn’t desirable, and when you do finally get the ability to send a DM, not knowing if it will ever actually get opened makes you just want to give up on the whole thing altogether. Then there’s the horrible feeling you get when you absent-mindedly hit the DM button and see a slew of unread messages from months past you never knew you had. On the flipside, the constant symbol showing you have no new messages … when you don’t … is just a mean slap in your unpopular face from Twitter.
We aren’t the only ones who’ve hated on DMs. The Daily Anchor reported as early as 2009 that Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder, wasn’t even using the feature. He’s “not a fan” seeing as how DMs circumvent the whole point of tweeting – which is public. Whatever his reasons, Direct Messages have been the black sheep of Twitter – but now, they’re fixed, so will be jump back on board or is there no going back?
The renewed interested in DMs suggests there’s more going on here than a simple fix.
The new DM direction might explain why the highly requested, cross-platform “marked as read” syncing feature was suddenly updated despite several years passing without a peep from Twitter’s developers. To recap, this recent update syncs up opened Direct Messages on Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac, twitter.com, mobile.twitter.com, and TweetDeck so that users won’t have to open up the same message again for a second time on another device.
Twitter has also made it supremely difficult to ignore unread DMs with last year’s face lift. Now a big, fat blue dot sits in the middle of your profile page that won’t disappear if you choose to ignore your messages. But the dot’s presence serves the purpose of a DM fittingly considering the fact that annoying visual (or auditory) cues and notifications go hand-in-hand. Thankfully now, this blue dot of DM doom should go away across all your platforms once messages have already been read.
So now the question is: why the sudden, renewed interest in ironing out Direct Messaging kinks?
Direct Messages, Twitter’s neglected child
Let’s revisit the beginning first. Twitter has come a long way since 2008. While skeptics scoffed at the idea of the social network being able to monetize, five years later Twitter’s making hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue. It’s the proud owner of viral hit Vine. It’s evolving a handful of markets – most of them lying in the media and advertising categories. Point is, Twitter can get things done if they’re priorities. Apparently, fixing DM syncing wasn’t. Even now, most of the arguments in Robert Scoble’s 2008 list of “Reasons Why Twitter Direct Messages Suck” still hold true.
Maybe Twitter’s reason for ignoring the feature has something to do with the fact that the social network actually doesn’t care about enabling private anything: Twitter makes money off of public tweets. Private messages like DMs would theoretically steal away Twitter’s potential revenue since ads like trending hashtags and promoted tweets show up on the dashboard that streams public tweets.
Direct Messages might not be a priority, and may even quite literally sit at the bottom of the bucket list (granted that DM-related updates are even on the list). So does the fix mean Twitter has further plans for Direct Messages?
From Direct Messages to Direct Notifications
Direct Messages may still be useful for sending “private” messages as originally intended … but what if DMs become some sort of notification hub?
Any semblance of time-sensitivity and importance of DMs has gone out the door in the last few years with users abusing the feature by scheduling automated DMs. At this point, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if most users habitually ignored Direct Messages altogether. Perhaps Twitter is set to reinvest the feature in a way that could recapture our attention. A few hints toward this?
For starters, Twitter opened up about a people-discovery feature, which was revealed to be a feature in its (alpha) testing phase that notifies you when several of the people you’re following are suddenly following a certain user. This alert is set via email only – but perhaps it could soon end up in your DM box … which would be impetus for Twitter to get DMs working right (more on that in a moment).
Say that DMs were a notification hub for all the data-driven activity on your account and network, there are a number of ways Twitter could make ample use of the feature. For instance, the social network quietly launched its free in-app analytics, but the analytics tool is buried deep within Twitter’s advertising tools – a page that average users would probably never bother to visit more than once. So to get users to return to this analytic tool, Twitter could tweet DMs with updated analytics about its user’s account.