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Blogs > Office Jotter

Two remedies for (other people's) Twitter trivia
Roger Whitehead By: Roger Whitehead, Director, Office Futures
Published: 22nd March 2011
Copyright Office Futures © 2011

He had occasional flashes of silence, that made his conversation perfectly delightful.

Sydney Smith, about Thomas Macaulay.

Twitter is an excellent alerting and updating service. Unfortunately, the amount of dross you sometimes have to sift through to get at the gold can be off-putting. In many cases, it’s the same person sending both.

I follow several bloggers, all of them knowledgeable folk with something worth saying. Unfortunately, some of them also come out with the kind of inconsequential drivel you’d expect from teenagers on Facebook. It might interest their family and friends and, perhaps, their colleagues but I don’t want to hear whom they met, what they ate or where they’re going tonight.

Electronic earmuffs

Two services provide partial remedies. The first is Muuter, which has been running for nearly two years. It lets you temporarily unfollow people you name. You specify the person and the period of abstinence, from an hour to a week. At the end of the set time, Muuter automatically reconnects you to his or her Twitter stream.

If you wish, you can have Muuter tell a chatterbox you’ve turned him or her off. You can also have it tweet publicly that you’ve used it against that person. (This seems to me both self-contradictory, as it adds to the noise, and uncivil.) Selection of sources can also be by hashtag, e.g. “#SXSW”, or keyword(s), e.g. “Charlie Sheen”.

Muuter offers two browser bookmarklets. You can also work it via Twitter Direct Messages (DMs), using a sort of command line interface. The service is free and runs from most browsers.

I tried Muuter on an especially fecund driveller, selecting a two-hour ‘flash of silence’. That worked fine but at the end of the period his messages started coming though on my mobile telephone. They hadn’t done so before; perhaps I had set things up wrongly.

An iThing app

The other noise abatement tool is TweetAgora. This offers a wider range of options but runs only on Apple iPhones and iPads. Filtering can be by name or keyword, as in Muuter, and by conversation.

You can also turn off a source’s tweets but not DMs. If you’re connected to services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Formspring, you can filter updates from them, too.

There are other clever features to TweetAgora but I couldn’t test them, as I use a BlackBerry. The software is free from Apple’s App Store. Pity it isn’t available for other phones or for ordinary browsers.

The hope, I suppose, with both these services is that, by the time you start listening to drivellers again, they will have got over whatever prompted the gushing. They are no cure for people who do it all the time. That needs topic-based filters, which neither service offers yet.

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