The fate of my Twitter DMs; or, why archiving is important.

February 23rd, 2010


If you send me a direct message (DM) on Twitter, expect to have it deleted.

WAIT. I know that sounds like complete Twitter geekery, and it’s hard for me to beat that rap after posts like this recent gem, but stick with me here, because it’s not ALL Twitter geekery I’ll be spouting.

Okay, first the Twitter part. If you use Twitter you already know this, but to bring everybody else up to speed, here’s the context: Most of Twitter is carried on publicly, in “tweets” that will be seen by anyone who is following you on the service. (You can follow as many or as few as you like, whether or not they reciprocate. I’m following about 1,140 people and have about 3,300 people following me.) But if you and the other person are both following each other, you can also trade “direct messages” or DMs, which are private between the two of you. Basically, these are like text messages on your phone, travelling in a back-channel parallel to the public tweetstream.

So far, so good? Good.

If you use Twitter as much as I do, and for business purposes like I do, that DM queue can become like another inbox, because it’s an easy way for friends to get in touch with you. And there’s the problem: you can’t archive DMs. There’s no way to store just the ones you want, or to tag only the ones you want to remember. (You can tag public tweets that you want to remember by using the “Favorite” star.)

Since I can’t highlight or archive just the DMs I want — and since I need to remove things from my line of sight that would distract me from what I need to remember — and since in general I’m looking for minimalism in my inboxes . . . I delete every DM that I can.

Which creates another problem: Twitter’s architecture means that when I delete it for me, I delete it altogether and everywhere, so that it also disappears on the sender’s end.


I’d like it if Twitter would let me flag certain DMs for follow-up, or archive — but keep available in storage! — old DMs that don’t need follow-up. But until that happens, if you DM me . . . expect subsequent deletions. Please know that it’s not you, it’s me.

Now for the broader, non-Twitter moral to the story: maybe it’s a good thing that Twitter is so minimalist, as Leo Babuata suggests. Maybe there need not be an archiving or flagging function for DMs, or threaded conversations or any of the other things I’d like to suggest as improvements to Twitter.

But, in general, if you want to increase the utility of any digital communications medium that saves past messages (i.e. not cell phones, which don’t record every call, but e-mail, SMS, etc.), fix it so that a message can be live (in the inbox), dead (deleted), or archived (out of the inbox, but not deleted).


(Photo by Andy Ciordia, used under a Creative Commons Noncommercial license.)

6 Responses to “The fate of my Twitter DMs; or, why archiving is important.”

  1. felicia Says:

    I think that even if you delete a DM between us, it will stay with me on Tweetdeck. Maybe so long as I don’t quit and then restart Tweetdeck? Have you ever experimented with this to see if it’s true? I’m curious now…

  2. Tim Walker Says:

    Felicia — I think that Tweetdeck (and Twhirl, Seesmic, etc.) keeps the deleted DM in its own memory until a new set of 20 DMs (or however many) has superceded it. At least, that’s what I *think* I recall happening.

  3. Adele McAlear Says:

    For those who want to back up everything for archival purposes, there is You can back up DMs, Tweets, followers, following, favorites and everything.

  4. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks for that suggestion, Adele. Some of the tools in the Twitter ecosystem are great — I just wish that this particular function were available natively within Twitter.

  5. Bryan Person Says:

    All my DMs coming into my Gmail inbox, and unless they’re spam, I don’t delete any of them. They get marked as read and then become part of my archives that I can search and retrieve later.

  6. Tim Walker Says:

    Bryan, you may have hit on the solution there. I long ago turned off all of my Twitter e-mail notifications — for new followers and DMs — but maybe I should just turn the DMs back on and have them filter into a Gmail file. Seems like a simple jury-rig, even if Twitter should *still* do something about it.

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