Personal tools

Private Conversation

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People want to have a private conversation in the context of a social or interest based online situation.

Facebook allows you to see who’s online, when you are visiting the site, and allows you to privately message them in an instant message chat.

Use When

Use to create a private environment for people to talk.


  • Allow people to send private messages to each other for asynchronous conversations.
  • Creating an in-context inbox for private messaging can compound a fractured online identity. Consider allowing users to use their previously set up email for messaging as an option.
  • Younger users are less likely to use email for conversations, so an in-context messaging system may be more appropriate for the younger demographics.

Dopplr provides a simple “Nudge” link for one user to communicate with another in an easy, low-effort way.

  • Provide a “nudge” capability. Allow one user to send another a canned message of encouragement or a nudge for more participation or conversation.

Twitter allows users to send private messages to each other.

  • Sometimes just the ability to have a backchannel from the public arena may be all that’s needed rather than a heavy messaging system. Twitter provides the ability for its users to send a direct message to each other within the system.
  • Consider an inline chat capability when also displaying online presence.


Providing simple tools for one user to nudge another can get a conversation going especially if one person is shy or not as confident online as the other.

Image:7-match-nudge.png offers users the ability to wink at someone. Low effort, low risk in the stressful arena of online dating


A backchannel for a private conversation within a public conversation tool will keep people engaged in the service for longer periods of time.

Twitter offers the ability for users to direct message a private message to another user within the same interface as the main twitter interface by simply adding the letter D in front of a user's handle.


Sometimes people want to have an “offline” conversation away from the public venue. Giving people tools for private conversations – whether asynchronous like email, direct messages or notes or synchronous like instant messaging – can help strengthen ties in relationships and increase participation in the social environment.

Related Patterns

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