Even Evan Williams Can't Figure Out Twitter DMs

If you use Twitter on a daily basis, chances are you’ve run into a DM Fail. The dreaded DM stands for the direct message, Twitter’s version of a private one-on-one message. I call it dreaded because if you rely on Twitter as a primary means of communication, you are often wondering just how private those DMs really are. Sometimes they inadvertently become public, usually when you are trying to reply to another DM via text message on your mobile phone.

This happened to me just this weekend when I was trying to edit a headline from the road. It turns out I am in good company. Even Twitter CEO Evan Williams runs into the occasional DM Fail, it would seem from a fleeting Tweet of his that is now deleted:

on phone w/bill. will call in a minute

Inadvertent DMs that show up in your regular Twitter stream are often banal like that, yet cryptic and intriguing. Who is Bill? And what was Ev talking to him about? What is even stranger, however, is that this particular message was from the Web, presumably the new Twitter.com, which makes it really hard to mix up your DMs with your regular Tweets. (It’s a different tab with a pop-up box). Perhaps Ev was using a keyboard shortcut and hit “m” for new direct message instead of “n” for new public Tweet. It can happen to the best of us.

But Twitter should really be designed to make it near-impossible to mix those two up. A couple years ago DMs would appear in the public timeline more frequently, before Twitter plugged some obvious holes. Maybe it is time to take another look. (Really, what’s the deal with the DM always failing when I respond via text or through the Twitter iPhone app?)