(Updated to reflect comment from Twitter)
In a move that will surely rankle and upset some of its users, Twitter is making a small, but important change to how its direct messages feature works.
Since their original conception, the only people that a user could send a direct message (DM) to was someone who was following them. Conversely, they could only receive them from someone they were following, making it basically into a closed system.
Well, not anymore. Twitter has begun rolling out a new option to allow DMs to be sent to you from anyone that is following them, even if that person is not being followed in return.
Users will see the following message on their options:
The new option was first noticed by The Verge on Monday.
When I heard about this move I had two thoughts at the same time: first, what took them so long? And second, oh, no, this is going to be awful.
To address my first thought: I do find it to be a bit ironic that Twitter would essentially cut off so much direct communication on a network that is famous for creating a dialogue between people who normally would never get to speak. I've heard celebrities and journalists say how much they love Twitter because it allows them to have direct contact with their fans. So why only limit that to public conversations?
But then I had that second thought: perhaps because the network is so open, and democratic, users liked having an option to have some more control over some of the information that they received.
Some people might also worry about spam, or the Anthony Weiners of the world sending them things that they never, ever wanted to see. But those users can still be blocked as they always have been.
Personally, I like this idea. There are a lot of times that I have wanted to contact a potential source on Twitter, without necessarily doing it publicly, but couldn't because they were not following me. Now I might have that option.
I especially like that it is optional; users, like me, who don't really see much of a difference can check that box. Users who see direct messages as too personal a style of communication to open up to people they don't know can keep things the way they are. Everybody wins.
The biggest winners of all here, though, might be advertisers and brands, who thrive on feedback from their customers, but obviously cannot go and follow each one of them. Users will now have the ability to communicate directly with these companies, without having the rest of the world see it.
Advertising is key to Twitter's future growth, as it will soon become a public company.
In its S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Twitter revealed that it had seen $253.6 million in revenue in the first six months of 2013. And that the vast majority of that revenue came from advertising; it accounted for $221.4 million. The other $32.2 million was from data and licensing.
So giving advertisers and brands a new way to interact with their customers, and receive feedback, will likely help Twitter show how engaged those followers are.
A Twitter spokesperson has pointed VatorNews toward the following statement, which was issued to The Next Web in 2011:
"Contrary to news reports, Twitter has not changed the rules for how Direct Messages (DMs) work for Verified accounts.
However, we have given a limited number of accounts the ability to receive DMs from accounts they don’t follow, in cases where having that capability may be beneficial (for example, enabling businesses to receive account information that users may not want to post publicly).
We do not have plans for making this capability more widely available at this time. Accounts with access to this feature must opt-in to utilize it.
We will continue to experiment with ways of helping people and companies get more value from Twitter. As with all of our experiments, we are listening carefully to feedback on this feature and will use that feedback to continue innovating and iterating."
In short, this is an experiment that Twitter is working on, where a limited group of users will get access to the feature. Some of the accounts that get this option will be verified, while others will not be, but Twitter is still in the experimental phase and is not yet ready to make it available to everyone.
(Image source: http://www.kunocreative.com)