If you're feeling brave, Twitter is (once again) letting you receive direct messages (DMs) from any old person. As before, you'll have to opt-in by ticking a box in the settings -- but once you do, even folks who don't follow you can send you a note. On top of that, you can now reply to anyone who DMs you, even if they're not a follower. That's a big change from the status quo -- previously, you've only been able to receive messages from people you follow, and send them to those who follow you. To drive home the point, Twitter put a Direct Message button front and center on your contact page for its iPhone and Android apps.
Twitter had a similar option before that it cut if off just a month later, so why is it trying again when user user privacy is under scrutiny? The social network says it wants to open up "a powerful and engaging messaging experience" for users, even "beyond the confines of their contacts." It recently allowed group direct messages, and likely wants to defend against apps like Snapchat or Facebook's WhatsApp, both of which do messaging much better than Twitter. At one point, rumors even suggested Twitter would develop a standalone app.
Given the amount of harassment that occurs on Twitter, a lot of users may be reluctant to let Joe Public contact them. On the other hand, if you made a boner in a tweet or link, someone could point it out in a direct message and save you a public shaming. Allowing users you've DM'd to message you back could also curtail many flame wars. In any event, given the new tweaks and dedicated messaging button, we'd not be shocked to see more such features going forward.
Update: The article has been corrected to clarify that you can now reply to anyone who DMs you, not just your followers.