Maybe Twitter Needs a Messaging App

Instead of trying to shoehorn DMs into the core of Twitter, perhaps DMs should become a stand alone messaging app. It might not lead to big profits, but it could result in increased Twitter use overall.


Last month Twitter and Instagram made adjustments to their services to bring them in line with Snapchat. These adjustments included adding picture sharing to private messages, and making the private message portions of the services more visible. But this may be the wrong strategy to take, according to social-software builder and designer Steven Lehrburger. Maybe Twitter needs to be split into two apps.

Direct messages have been around as long as Twitter has been around, but they’ve always been something of a redheaded stepchild in the service. The recent changes that brought them to the front of the UI may have helped, but by and large the private part of Twitter still has its problems.

“Twitter can either be a place where you follow the people you’re interested in, or a place where you follow the people you want to talk with, but it can’t be both,” says Lehrburger. And he’s right in many regards. You follow those whose tweets you wish to see, but if you DM with a friend with objectionable content, their tweets will be in your stream whether you like it or not. And because DM’s are limited to 140 characters like the rest of Twitter, conversations can be stifled.

When the core purpose of your service is private messaging, as with Snapchat, WhatsApp or others, there’s no need to navigate to a special tab to send messages – it’s front and center. To send a DM on Twitter, you kind of have to stop what you’re doing. “Twitter could continue to incrementally iterate on DMs until it reached superficial feature parity with [its] competitors, this would not fix the underlying shortcomings.”

Lehrburger’s solution is an interesting one: Instead of trying to shoehorn DMs into the core of Twitter, give the DM feature its own app. He suggests having tweets be a starting point which transitions into a private conversation. Once contacts are imported into the new messenger app, you could approve new people to DM you, without having to follow them. Your lists would diverge from there, but isn’t that the point?

While it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have two apps instead of one, Facebook seems to have succeeded in doing just that. Messaging is the half of Twitter that’s hard to profit from, but having the DM feature in its own app could result in increased Twitter use overall. This way you could leave the aspirational broadcasting to the main feed, and save the real conversations in the other app.

Image credit: Garrett Heath