As a preface to the post that I intend to write next, I wanted to quickly jot down an idea that I think would be useful for Twitter… it’s partly inspired by my own instinct towards openness and partly clarified by Lane Becker‘s comment about Twitter Groups (the topic of my next status):
Personally, I’m not particularly interested in being able to create groups of people I can send certain subsets of messages to. That kind of fine-grained privacy management stuff drives me crazy on sites like Vox. Maybe I’m old-skool, but it feels like people in that environment are all about what they’re hiding, not what they’re sharing, and I prefer sharing. Hiding inhibits usage and growth, and it’s lame like high school. Don’t do it.
So it’s interesting that Twitter went with a binary model of privacy — either you have it or you don’t. Sure, you can direct message folks, but in terms of your complete timeline, either the world knows what’s up with you or they don’t. This is certainly straightforward and easy to grok, but doesn’t really allow for a third option, which would be a form of conservative promiscuity: a very public timeline with support for statuses that can only be seen by your innermost circle (or even just yourself).
The first step would be to set up a “whisper circle” or “inner circle” that will receive your whispers. This leaves you free to maintain a public timeline while adding the ability to restrict at least some of what you’re doing to a small, and more intentional, audience.
N. B.: You would only get one “inner circle” to start. For real private messaging circles, you really should just use email or Pownce. As far as I’m concerned, use the best tool for the job. This proposal is being made with the knowledge that many people would be interested in having personal d-lists or buddy sets like Pownce, but I’m defying that out of concern that overloading Twitter with this kind of management functionality would turn Twitter into something it’s not and wasn’t intended to be — which is a replacement for email in 140 character chunks.
I propose a very simple syntax for these kinds of messages: just begin your message with a bang (!) and then type your message as usual (yes, I do realize the irony in using the exclamation point for whispering). An example:
!psst... I'm whispering...
This status will only show up in the timelines of those friends who have been added to your inner circle. It will not show up in any public timelines. To reply to a whisper with a whisper, one of my friends could use either:
!@factoryjoe I can hear you. or
@factoryjoe !I can hear you.
In either case, the use of an @reply to my whisper should not betray my confidence and would guarantee that I’d get the response in my replies. Like private tweets, only my inner circle at the time that I sent the message would be able to see my “whisper stream”.
I should also note that the name “whisper” comes from IRC lingo. It will make sense why I’m using both this syntax and this name in my next status on Twitter Channels — and, as an old Dodgeball user, the use of the bang to preface a message has been done before.
For now I’m curious about your thoughts on the usefulness of this proposal. Again, it’s incomplete without my next post, but as a simple protocol and as a way to bring back some folks who have gone private to living in the sunlight again, I thought I would offer it up for feedback.