Paul McAleer


Paul McAleer

Reading Derek Powazek’s great post about the emerging mores of social networking sites set off a trip wire in my own brain regarding a feature I wish Twitter, at least, had: squelch.

The squelch feature is something I recall from my days on GEnie, when chat was referred to as a CB simulator because that was the most useful analogy. But it was essentially what we know of as chat: a room with participants talking together and individually. While I didn’t use the CB simulator often - there was an hourly charge - I did once start programming a CB client for the Commodore 128; thus I became familiar with squelch.

Why “squelch?” I found one particular definition quite elegant:

(squelch circuit): A circuit that suppresses the output of a radio receiver if the signal strength falls below a certain level.

If a signal is putting out too much noise, it can be squelched. Talk about a direct and apt analogy! If your conversation has less value to me right now, I can squelch it and choose to unsquelch it at some future time.

More than once I’ve wished that Twitter or a Twitter client supported squelching. There are times when I’d like to not read about a particular user’s goings-on, but I’d like to come back later without any fuss. “PAUL HAS CHOSEN TO BLOCK YOU!” and “PAUL IS READING YOUR TWEETS AGAIN!” should be traded for, “Paul needs a little break” and, “Hey, uh, Paul started listening again.” To steal Derek’s analogy, it’s sectioning off conversations with a butter knife instead of a chainsaw.

There are design and technical challenges which naturally go along with implementing such a feature, but I think offering an alternative to such a severe action would be really useful.

ETA 8.18.10: The new Mac Twitter app Hibari includes a mute function, and a timed mute (ie, ‘mute for 3 days’) is forthcoming. Excellent.