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Six Ways Twitter’s Direct Message System Could Be Radically Improved

Twitter’s direct message (DM) system is, quite frankly, rubbish. An inbuilt messenger is a handy and convenient feature on any social network, but what we have on Twitter is so basic and limiting to be almost useless. Here are six ways in which it could easily be improved.

1. Direct Messages MUST Be Two-Way

As it stands, the direct message system on Twitter isn’t really fair – if I follow somebody this affords them the right to send me a direct message, which many do, certainly if they want to keep something private. However, unless they follow me back, I do not have the same luxury. I cannot reply to their DM. This is ridiculous for two reasons: one, it gives them an immediate advantage, and two, the only way for me to respond to their ‘private’ message is to make it public with an @reply.

I say: you should only be able to send a direct message to another user if you’re both following each other. Otherwise, you have to send a reply. This would encourage mutual following and cut down on unnecessary and one-way direct messaging. No mutual follow, no direct message. You’ll have to send me a reply instead.

2. Mass Marking/Deletion Of Direct Messages

Twitter needs to add a series of checkboxes next to each delete message so that you can quickly mark and delete any you want to remove and/or move somewhere else en masse (see ‘Folders’, below). There also needs to be a one-click ‘select/unselect all’ – as it is, I can remove all my direct messages using a service like DM Whacker, but that should be a basic feature on Twitter, surely?

3. Search

If you’re on Twitter long enough, pretty soon you’ll build up a lot of direct messages. Some of these will contain useful links and information – I stress the word some, as relatively it’s going to be very few. Right now, the only way to find that data is to scroll back through page after page of direct message, and hoping that CTRL+F and the right keyword will find what you want. A search feature built in to the DM system would make this a very simple process.

If this ran in real-time – i.e., the results changed/updated as you typed, like in TweetDeck – it could also operate as a really cool filter. For example, typing in “http” would quickly show all the DMs you have that contain links; entering a question mark would allow you to quickly respond to queries.

It would also be nice to be able to instantly pull up a list of all the DMs sent by one person.

4. Folders

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for some folder options in the direct message system. Even just one folder where you could save the DMs that you wish to keep would be very useful, as this would allow you to maintain a neat inbox. Something similar to the favourites feature already in Twitter work well – you simply star any message you wish to move to your folder. This would also allow you to mark messages you want to reply to later.

5. Spam

A spam folder would also be useful – using software similar to Askimet or that used by Gmail, Twitter could filter out the obvious spam DMs and move them to your spam folder, where you could peruse/delete at your leisure. After 30 days, all messages in the spam folder would auto-delete. I doubt Twitter monitors users who maintain a ‘clean’ account in the public side of the network but send a lot of spam out via direct messages. This would be one way to take care of this problem.

6. Failsafe Mechanism

We’ve all done it – you’re typing away at your very private direct message, you click the submit button, and then realise it’s a reply. Or worse, an open tweet to your entire network. Suddenly, everybody knows about your business deal – especially your competitors.

DMs could use a failsafe mechanism – something to let us know that what we’re typing is a certain kind of tweet. One way to get around this would be for the colour of your text to change when you’re doing different things on Twitter – for example, once you hit the ‘d’ key followed by the spacebar, Twitter realises you’re sending a direct message and makes the text of that tweet turn red, say. And when you start a text with @, indicating a reply, the text could be blue. The colours are irrelevant – it could be bold or inversed or whatever – but by changing the way the text looks your brain would say, “Hey, this is definitely a direct message…” and you’d move along quite happily. External clients that have one-click button access to DMs and replies could easily replicate this feature.


Lots of folk don’t like the idea of complicating Twitter and there is definitely some advantage in keeping the front-end relatively simple. However, there’s nothing to stop Twitter revamping the back-end of the network to provide a lot more functionality, and the direct message system is seriously in need of an overhaul. I’d like to see all of these features added.

What about you? What features would you like to add to direct messages?

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