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I believe that when a Direct Message is sent it goes directly to your Communications page and shows up as a new communication on the meter and displays on the left side of the communications page as 'tef has sent you a direct message'. A private message is an e-mail that only goes to your private message box on your homepage (internal page we are taken to when we click on our name) and must be opened by you. Anyway, that's my non-technical reasoning.
I'm sure Pingreeman will chime in with the exacting difference.
Hi nuhusker - Thanks for the question, we've started a new FAQ to explain the difference but here's the gist.
Private and direct messages are two ways for Insiders to communicate directly. Direct messages appear in the Communications streams of only the people you send them to. Private messages on the other hand, do not appear within the Communications stream and are only visible to the people you send them to (on the Private Messages tab of their profile).