10/15/2013 11:27 EDT | Updated 12/15/2013 05:12 EST

Twitter lets users get DMs from any follower

Some Twitter users now can now accept private direct messages from any of their followers — not just from the people they follow.

Up until now, users of the popular microblogging site and social network — which is expected to make an IPO this fall — could only receive direct messages, which are private, from people they follow. Anyone else who wanted to contact them had to use an @reply or mention, which is public by default.

However, some users began reporting late Monday night and early Tuesday morning that they had noticed a setting that allows them to choose to receive DMs from any follower. That effectively means users can receive messages from anyone, since anyone can become a follower within seconds at the click of a mouse button.

Twitter user @JimConnolly, who runs a marketing blog targeted at small business owners, posted a screenshot of the new option at 10:54 p.m. PT Monday.

As of mid-Tuesday morning, Twitter had not yet publicly announced the option or details of its rollout, and it was not yet available to everyone.

Users who have the option must opt in, meaning that the status quo — being able to receive DMs only from followers — is the default setting.

Many initial responses to Connolly’s tweet about the new feature were negative.

“Only an idiot would check that box,” said one reply.

Another tweeted, “With all that unfiltered spam floating around? That’s the doomsday button right there.”

Luke Edwards, a blogger for the technology website Pocket Lint, said, “it’s a bit like giving your email address to everyone, including spammers.”

Connolly reported that after five hours, he had received, “loads of DMs, no spam.” He added, “If it gets spammy, I’ll turn it off.”

Handy as customer service tool

But some technology watchers observed that the new feature could be handy in some circumstances.

“The change will likely be useful for brands interested in using Twitter as a customer service tool,” wrote blogger Seth Fiegerman on the technology website Mashable.

“Now, businesses won't have to follow back thousands of users just to deal with customer issues.”

Darrell Etherington, who writes for the technology website Techcrunch, suggested that, by not offering the option before, Twitter was able to grow its network because people were motivated to follow each other back.

In Etherington’s opinion, the new option “eliminates the age-old hassle of receiving @-replies that ask you to follow-back so that someone can DM you some information or a message of questionable value.”

He added that the feature will be very useful to journalists and “anyone else who hopes to use Twitter to communicate both publicly and privately.”

According to Twitter’s IPO papers, it had 218 million active users as of the end of June, or about a sixth of Facebook’s 1.2 billion. Last year, it generated $317 million in revenue, but has never turned profit since it was founded in 2006.