Twitter has started giving its users the option to accept direct messages (DMs) from anyone who follows them. In the past, only mutual follow relationships had the DM feature available.
Located under the first settings tab in your profile, the option looks like this:
Why would twitter do this? All Things D suggests that the network is getting set for an overhaul to their DM functionality. Dan Pinnington correctly adds that this might be a new opportunity for abuse by spammers. Both responses are likely correct.
Personally, I'm curious about what Twitter's future direction for DMs will be. Because, as of right now, I find their DM functionality to be of little use. There are a handful of people I communicate with via DM, and most of those contacts are such that I could easily use traditional email as an alternative.
Like many Twitter users, I follow less people than follow me. I also follow a number of accounts where I have zero expectation of that person (or group) following me back. That doesn't mean I wouldn't be amiable to having a DM exchange with either of those two groups in the future; but it's not happening right now.
Those two statements aside, I do see expanded use of @username handles as an important part of Twitter's future. Social messaging has slowly gained user trust in recent years, and there are many that see it as a companion tool to traditional email. The idea being to "protect the inbox", routing less important or informal conversations around traditional email.
Social messaging is destined to become more important that it has the past. I think we can count on that. Whether it becomes a "trusted messaging centre", either competing with or functioning in parallel to our traditional email? Only time will tell.
Admittedly, opening up DMs like this, coupled with the potential spam issues, makes this move look extremely odd. I can't help but wonder, though, if there is something more going on behind the scenes. Something that might fix Twitter's broken direct messaging feature.
Let's hope so.