Twitter cemented its spot in the social media pantheon by facilitating real-time public communication. It can function as the liveliest water cooler or the loneliest echo chamber, depending on who you follow, who follows you, and how your tweets are received. But the micro-blogging service’s Modus Operandi is giving people a platform to compose a short message for other users. It is, at its essence, a public forum.
But since the beginning, Twitter has allowed users a more private option for communication in the form of Direct Messages. These messages are private, and only the sender and receiver can view them, functioning like an email or a private chat, depending on how you use the service. The company hasn’t done much with the DM format since its inception, and it has kept these communications limited — users could previously only receive DMs from accounts they followed. This stipulation prevents spammers from filling inboxes, although spammers have managed to circumvent the system by giving users viruses that send out spammy DMs to their followers.
And now a new DM function may open the door to more spam: Twitter is experimenting with a change to its Direct Message feature that gives users the option to receive DMs from anyone using the service. Not everyone has this option yet, but those who do can opt to change their Direct Message settings to allow all Twitter users the option to DM.
If you want to see if you have this feature, head to your Settings section and look under “Account.” Users who are part of the test group will see a new box explaining the opt-in, and those who want to get messages from anyone will have to click a box.
Twitter’s decision to make this function opt-in is a smart move. It’s too soon to tell if users who select this option will benefit from it or mainly receive an onslaught of spam messages, but even if it turns out to be a spam express delivery service, users will be able to turn it off if they don’t like it.
And it’s nice to see Twitter paying attention to its Direct Messages function — for a long while, it seemed as though it was a neglected feature. The company fixed problems with syncing the messages across devices earlier this year, and the decision to give DMs a tune-up highlights how Twitter is trying to spit-shine and expand its functionality in time for its IPO.
It will be interesting to see what happens if any public figures turn this option on — imagine how many messages people like Justin Bieber or the guys from One Direction will get if they decide to open the floodgates to their fervent fans. The ability to only receive message from accounts you followed served as a nice floodgate.
Although most news outlets noticed this change today after users started discussing it last night, this feature may have been rolling out for a while, at least according to journalist Micah Singleton, who tweeted about it last month:
Twitter’s DM feature is not that new guys https://t.co/n5fPKMcCeN
— Micah Singleton (@MicahSingleton) October 15, 2013