Twitter’s new “Mute” feature is a microcosm of the socially invasive, yet divided times we live in. Want to follow your favorite rock singer on Twitter, but can’t stand it when he occasionally goes on a republican rant because you’re a liberal democrat? No problem. Twitter now allows you to punch him out, virtually speaking, for whatever amount of time you like. In fact the Mute button might even keep family members from killing each other as we head into the political elections in November. It’s enough to make you wish Facebook had a similar temporary Mute button – but that only serves to highlight the challenges that Twitter faces in this era.
After having access to both Twitter and Facebook for the better part of the past decade, the general public has firmly chosen the latter as their primary tool of choice when it comes to remaining connected to family, friends, and acquaintances. Twitter’s only real claim to fame left is its advantage when it comes to masses of people following the tweets of celebrities. If Twitter had implemented innovative features like the Mute button five years ago, it might have had a better chance of becoming the default American social network. Instead it’s relegated to a distant second, or even worse depending on how one measures its popularity. All Facebook has to do is add a similar temporary Mute function next month, and it’ll negate any chance of Twitter using it to gain marketshare.
The legacy of Twitter appears to have already been written: because it made a conscious decision to never evolve beyond the standard 140 character status updates and never added the personalized features which would have allowed it to become relevant in friends-and-family personal communications, it’s instead been relegated mainly to those non-personal, one-to-many communications which take place between public figures and their followers. The Mute feature will help make that more efficient, and may keep more Twitter users from unfollowing each other in these politically divided times, but it won’t put Twitter front and center.