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Wanted: a better Twitter filter to mute the echo chamber

Wanted: a better Twitter filter to mute the echo chamber


I love you, just not all of the time

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Yesterday's weather forecast for my Twitter feed called for a 50 percent chance of moaning New Yorkers. It’s my own fault, my chosen profession requires that I follow the media elite, many of whom reside in Gotham. Still, I could have probably whittled those annoyances back to about 20 percent of my feed if only Twitter allowed for some temporary keyword filtering on topics like "snow," "Juno," and "blizzard."

If I follow you on Twitter it’s because I’m genuinely interested in what you — person or #brand — have to say. I don’t follow accounts out of professional or even friendly courtesy, and certainly not as an empty follow-back gesture.

I don't want to hear your play-by-play analysis of the Packers game

That said, many of the people I follow can go temporarily insane during sporting events or when divisions in local or national politics become too much for them to bear. I like American football and even the US president. However, that doesn't mean I want to hear your play-by-play analysis of the Packers game or the State of the Union Address, especially when I don't agree with you in ways that exceed 140 characters. Then there’s that person — who shall remain nameless — who loses his shit for an hour anytime a new Oreo flavor is announced.

Right now Twitter’s mute function only applies to accounts. It’s also binary so it's either on or it’s off for anyone using the company’s web client or native apps. Usually I forget to turn it off — leaving accounts that I follow (and even depend upon for my job) muted for far longer than I wanted, often weeks or months at a time.

Ideally, Twitter would allow us to temporarily mute accounts, hashtags, or keywords and automatically disable the filter after a time of our choosing. The filter would also sync across the myriad clients we use as we travel between the office and home. If I don’t want to see something on my PC at work, I sure as hell don’t want to see it on my Nexus 6 during my commute or my iPad as I lay down for bed.

Third-party apps have stepped in to add features that Twitter either won't or can't implement

Twitter’s more powerful TweetDeck client extends muting to keywords, but it only runs on Macs, PCs, or Chromebooks. If I block something in TweetDeck, it’s still visible in other clients — annoying since I, like most of humanity, usually interact with Twitter from iOS or Android apps.

Third-party apps have stepped in to add features that Twitter either won't or can't implement. Maybe it's because Twitter is afraid advertisers will get muted or maybe it's simply too complicated, but either way one solution is to try to switch your entire Twitter life to third-party apps. Unfortunately, it's looking less and less like that will be a viable long-term option.

Tweetbot mute

Tweetbot, for example, can already mute hashtags, keywords, clients, or accounts for a day, a week, a month, or forever, and it will sync your filter across devices via iCloud Sync. Unfortunately, it'll also cost you $28 to have it installed on your iPhone ($4.99), iPad ($2.99), and Mac ($19.99), and more over time as Tapbot charges for software updates. That might be worth it for some, but it won’t work across Google or Microsoft ecosystems. It’s also getting harder to justify that price given Twitter’s reluctance to evolve its public Application Programming Interface (API) in a timely manner causing even the all-powerful Tweetbot to come up short against a few of Twitter’s newer features. And given Twitter’s hostility towards third-party developers (and Tweetbot’s mysterious disappearance and subsequent reappearance in the Mac App Store this week) you’d be making a fairly sizable bet on the little guys winning the fight.

Mute is the software equivalent of those rubbery stress balls you squeeze while counting to ten. Gmail's mute is great for squelching banal birthday wishes and staff welcome emails, and it’s the primary feature that keeps me coming back to Google's native clients. On Twitter, the feature is handy for removing Tweets from your timeline without having to block or unfollow the account. Muted Twitter and email accounts have no idea they've been silenced thus maintaining the appearance of social harmony.

Imagine the power you'd wield over your stress if you could quickly and easily filter spoilers from your favorite shows, threats and other forms of abuse, or indecipherable commentary on sportsball.

The upcoming Super Bowl is a particularly noisy Twitter event. Roughly 232 million people actively use Twitter each month, yet only about 110 million potential truck buyers (who may or may not use Twitter) will watch the Super Bowl. That leaves a lot of people who don't care what happens between the Seattle Microsofts and New England Ball Deflators, or whatever their names are.

Mute is the software equivalent of those rubbery stress balls

Ideally I could set the time for each mute. I’d click "Mute for…" and then punch in the amount of time it’ll take for normal programming to return. Otherwise, I’d settle for some presets for the most common violations:

  • 1 Hour: The length of a #GoT episode.
  • 2 Hours: The length of a soccer match plus added time for whinging.
  • 3 Hours: The length of NFL football or MLB baseball games.
  • 1 Day: The length of a typical political squabble.
  • 1 Week: The time it takes for a news cycle to lose interest in a politician's dick pic or internet-breaking set of buttocks.

I’d happily pay for such advanced filtering that worked across Google, Apple, and Microsoft ecosystems, but I don’t believe any third-party app developers would risk the work given the uncertainties they face from an openly antagonistic Twitter. Fortunately, Twitter has found renewed development vigor under Kevin Weil’s product leadership, giving it the kind of momentum we haven’t seen in years. Okay, I won’t have a better mute before Super Bowl 49, but there’s hope for 50.