Twitter’s Gasoline

So Twitter is going to offer opt-in direct messaging from anyone. It looks like you’ll be able to check a box and anybody will be able to DM you, even if you you don’t follow them.  Andy Baio gets it about right:


Direct Messaging from Randos is not something anyone  other than brands asked for, but it is a way for Twitter to make money and  possibly compete with Facebook in the messaging arena. The fact that it takes a service which is well known for fostering online harassment and makes that harassment even easier gets a shrug from Twitter.

There’s the argument, of course, that it’s an opt-in feature, which would be a great argument if this was the first year we had had social media. But it’s not, and we all know the Opt-in Law of Social Media which is that any opt-in feature sufficiently beneficial to the company’s bottom line will become an opt-out feature before long.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Ward Cunningham about trackbacks to forking in federated wiki. Basically, right now if someone forks your stuff in federated wiki and you don’t know them, you never learn about it. A notification that would alert you is one of the most requested features for federated wiki, because it could make wiki spread organically. Of course, the down side is it would also be an easy way to harrass someone, continually forking their stuff and defacing it or writing ugly notes on it.

So we’re left with the problem — build something that spreads easily, but has this Achilles heel in it, or wait until we have a better idea of the best way to do this. When I first started working with Ward on this I asked why this wasn’t implemented yet — this was the key to going viral after all. His response was interesting. He said we’ve talked about it a lot, and somehow we’ll get something like it. But he said it’s “pouring gasoline on a campfire”, which I took to mean that there’s a downside to virality.

A year later we’re still talking about the baest way to do it, and paying attention to what people do without it. We’re still patiently explaining to people why connecting with people in federated wiki is hard compared to other platforms, at least for the moment. We’ve focussed on other community solutions, like shareable “rosters” and customizable activity feeds.

I think eventually Ward and others will throw the gasoline on, but only when they’re sure which way the wind is blowing and where the fire is likely to spread.

Looking at the press around this recent direct messaging decision it’s not clear to me that Twitter has done any of that. What does that say about Twitter?

One thought on “Twitter’s Gasoline

  1. this is all kinds of bad news RE twitter.
    And I totally understand about fedwiki notifications but I’m sure we’ll find a creative solution to this. It might even be something that, in its abstract form, benefits other designers of social spaces. Thanks for the heads-up about this. Twitter is actually changing things in its interface almost daily now, I am going NUTS. Some feature works one day and then it doesn’t work on another…

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