Does Twitter need a mute button?

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Dave Winer seems to think so.

And it has been suggested before. I found one call for this the last time we had an election and I bet we will hear more again soon (if not already).

The problem though is not as simple as it sounds. The tweet stream is not just about who you follow – it is also about who can direct message you. And for this reason, muting or temporarily unfollowing someone doesn’t make sense. Sure, I suppose Twitter could make it so that a mute doesn’t prevent a direct message, but I think there is a better way to do this. And it’s already built.

It’s lists.

In reality, we shouldn’t be following our main stream. For many dedicated tweeters, this stream is just too much. In fact, in my experience, most clients can’t even properly support following a large group of people (ie. 150+), especially when you live in a completely different timezone. It’s difficult to catch up with people who are writing 8 hours before you.

The solution is to have two lists: active and inactive. These two lists would make up all our followers. All that would need to be done is for Twitter and other clients to enable an easy way to move people between these two lists. A person would either be on or off, vocal or mute, active or inactive. Removing you from one list, would add you to the other.

And then to make it all work even better, we’d just need to develop a nice programatic way to move people between these two lists based upon events in time (sxsw, superbowl, oscars), by keyword (football) or some other metric we haven’t even dreamed of.

In fact, it is this last idea which I think is really missing from Twitter. Our streams need to be dynamic. Facebook has their super duper, super secret news filtering system. Twitter, given the nature of its user base, needs to build a more interactive, user-defined and user-controlled way to filter. This will allow us all to take our streams to the next level.