That little blue tick next to the names of certain Twitter users means that the company has verified their identity. They are who they claim to be. A least, they are if Twitter did its job correctly. The beneficiaries of the tick are mostly public figures: celebrities, athletes, journalists, authors and so on.
Yesterday, Twitter said it was launching a filtered view of the replies and mentions that Twitter users receive. There are three options: view all replies and mentions; view them 'Filtered', with spam removed; and view only mentions from Verified users.
The feature, TechCrunch explained, "lets celebs hob-nob in peace". Twitter abuse has been an increasingly visible problem in recent months. Last month, in protest at rampant threats of violence towards women, several media types boycotted Twitter for a day. If such boycotts were to become a regular occurence or if some celebs left the service entirely then Twitter would be damaged. Its reputation would suffer and some users, many of whom use the service only to follow celebrities, might leave. The new filter offers a solution of sorts, allowing the Verified to talk among themselves, with any abuse filtered out.
But what if Twitter went further than that? The company made another announcement yesterday: it's about to go public. And that means it needs to convince potential investors of its profitable future. The blue tick could be a solution to both the abuse problem and the question of monetisation.
Suppose Twitter offered to verify users who handed over their credit card details? At the moment, the blue tick has scarcity value. Many users who are not public figures and therefore have no chance to get one would jump at the chance. As verified accounts proliferated, more power users would decide they needed them too.
At some point, Twitter might decide it had enough verified accounts to switch the filtered view of replies so that it defaulted to verified. Then, if you don't have a verified account users won't see your messages unless they check the unfiltered replies, which will become like looking in your spam folder for missed emails.
At that point, handing your credit card details to Twitter and getting the blue tick becomes essential for anyone who regularly uses the service for conversations. Those who want to use it for abuse have two options: continue in anonymity and know that your messages are probably not going to be read or verify your identity and risk being banned if you violate Twitter's terms or even being arrested if you post violent threats.
Meanwhile, Twitter would have gathered credit card details from an enormous number of users, making a true 'tweet-to-pay' service possible. Early this year, Twitter partnered with American Express to let Amex customers buy goods and services over Twitter, with a tweet. The tie-up involved a back-and-forth series of tweets between the customer and Amex, all properly hashtagged. Twitter could do away with that entirely if it had your credit card details on file. See a tweet for a product you want? Click the buy button and it's ordered.
Twitter would need to up its security, of course. Accounts are regularly hacked at the moment and the company would have to ensure that such an attack did not also put credit card details at risk.
Is this the endgame for Twitter's filtered view of mentions? Who knows? But the service has two significant problems at the moment and this would go a long way to solving both.