Twitter clients

From about an hour after signing up to Twitter until very recently I used Twirl on both PC and Mac as my Twitter client. I was happy with it, and still am, but had noticed people using other clients and wanted to see if I was missing anything.

I round up my findings here:

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Three twitter clients

Note, at the end of this post are some updates since it was written.

Twirl

Adobe Air based, with a simple, effective and attractive interface. It just works and has some nice features. You can activate searches so that their results appear in your main feed. updates can appear on screen in small popup notifications. In many ways I see it as the baseline of what a client should be.

Very occasionally it’s non native Air roots would show through with quirks with widgets and UI controls (e.g. a scroll bar not behaving like it should). It could be easy to miss replies and mentions that come in when you are not looking, once off the screen there is no indication that they are there. Some of the newer clients go further than Twirl with integrating with third party apps and displaying conversations. Clicking on a hashtag will open a web browser twitter search, it would be neater if it opened it’s own search tab instead.

Seesmic Desktop

Seesmic bought twirl a while back, and their website now implies Seesmic Desktop is the main client. It’s currently my twitter client at work.

The good: (often) auto completes on usernames. Handles multiple accounts well (they all seem to handle more than one account). Two (or more) column layout works well, but seems to require less screen space than TweetDeck. A good all around client, similar to Twirl

The not so good. Interface could be better, and perhaps too cluttered. On my work PC the interface stutters a little when new tweets come in, a slight delay while new avatar images load which for someone reason is noticeable and a little distracting.

A mention must also go to Seesmic web client. An excellent choice if away from your normal computer. Acts like a desktop client in a web browser.

Echofon

This is the client I have stuck with on the Mac.

The Good: Nice simple interface. One of it’s best features is it’s pop out draw which shows conversations, this is useful, click on the conversation button next to any tweet to see the whole thread, including those you do not follow.

Another nice feature, clicking on a link to an image (on twitpick, yfrog, flickr etc) opens a window showing just the image, no need to load a webpage to have a quick look at an image.

When replying/mentioning someone you can undo the twitter ‘reply’ functionality (i.e. so it’s just a tweet that mentions their username, rather than a tweet which replies to a specific tweet), useful because twitter will only show your reply to those who also follow the person you are replying to (i.e. probably most your followers will not see what you are saying).

Not so good: no auto complete on usernames. when I’m in the middle of composing a tweet and click on ‘reply’ next to a person’s tweet, I want their name to appear where the cursor is, not at the start of the tweet, this is quite annoying. It has a search tab, but no way to auto-update search results (e.g. when following conference tweets), or for them to appear in your main stream.

TweetDeck

Seems to be the most popular client in use at the moment. Like Twirl and Seesmic Desktop it is Adobe Air based.

The Good: Allows for users to be put in to groups and different columns for different groups, e.g. a group of core friends you don’t want to miss anything from. Seems to be the choice of power users. Auto completes usernames.

The not so good: interface isn’t great, and seems to take up a lot of space, with each tweet taking up more room, and the need of multiple columns. Personally, I know it’s very popular, but the interface has never worked for me. Partly because I prefer my twitter client to tick away on one side of the screen while I work in another app which uses the rest of the screen. Tweetdeck doesn’t seem to be designed with this in mind.

Tweetie

I haven’t tried but some people I follow on twitter highly rate it. Not free but sounds like it is worth checking out.

Twitt

Seems quite a new twitter client for the Mac, see their homepage here.

I haven’t really looked at it other than start it up quickly, so can’t really comment. UI seems simple, uncluttered and nice, but there seems a lot of space around each tweet, so less tweets on screen at anyone time. One slight annoying thing, on first start up, rather than asking for a username, it just stated there was an error getting tweets, not a huge problem but not very welcoming. One to watch.

To Conclude…

Having tried a few clients, here are some of the features I like (or would like to see) and will keep an eye open for when looking at any new client.

  • Seeing conversations with one click without needing to go to the browser (echofon does a great job here)
  • Autocomplete usernames. (Tweetdeck/Seesmic Desktop), so I don’t have to remember the exact spelling of a username when I want to mention someone.
  • A simple way to browse all the people I follow (sorted alphabetically and any other useful way), for when I want to mention someone but have no idea of their name but will recognise it when i see it, or recognise their avatar.
  • [update Sept 2010, this is less of an issue now] A way to workaround Twitter’s broken replies (i.e. if you reply to someone only those who follow the person you are replying to will see your tweet, even if it is of general interest). When you reply to someone, some clients allow you to click a small button so that your tweet is a normal tweet (which so happens to mention another user) rather than a reply. Useful, but wonder if there is more clients could do to work around this.
  • [added Sept 2010] ‘Reply to all’ option.

There’s not much between them. I’m currently using Seesmic on my work PC and echofon on my home macbook, but would happily be using Twirl or Tweetdeck as well. All have useful features that others do not have, but none seem to have a killer feature which puts them above the rest. We should of course be thankful so many people and organisations have developed clients for free!

I’d be interested to here what features others find useful, and which clients they prefer. Why is TweetDeck so popular?

Update (2nd Dec) : A few days after I posted this I tried using TweetDeck again at work. I still don’t think the UI is as good as others, but it does have some nice features and gets most things right. Of note is the username auto completion. But perhaps its biggest selling point is that other clients tend to each miss one or two bits of useful functionality, where as Tweetdeck has most of the features you might find useful. For example, you can mark a user as spam and their tweets and replies are removed from view. Another example, from any tweet, you can do just about any action for the user of the specific tweet (see user profile, add user, email tweet etc). Seeing conversations, profiles and pictures within tweetdeck is also useful.

It’s weaker points (apart from UI): I have the window wide enough to see ‘All friends’ and ‘mentions’ and it’s easy to miss direct messages. Also, I’m not keen on how it handles multiple accounts. I had set-up Seesmic Desktop so that the main tweets column showed tweets for my main account. But the mentions column shows mentions for either my main account or a work related account (where it was important to respond to any reply that occasionally came in). It doesn’t seem possible to do this with Tweetdeck, and so far it seems that basically all settings are for all twitter accounts, i.e. can’t use different settings for different accounts.

Update Feb 2010:

  • DestroyTwitter is a nice Adobe Air app, it uses less resources and screenspace than others. Smaller and a nicer UI than Tweetdeck, but with less features. Available for Windows and OS X. The developer is currently taking a break from developing it.
  • Seesmic for Windows is a Windows native app,  not to be confused with Seesmic Desktop, an Adobe Air app. This is nice and you can expect updates and new features in the future. With its left hand bar it does take up a bit of screen space (and it doesn’t highlight when a new reply/mention/dm has come in). No auto-complete when writing usernames in tweets yet. But one to watch and one of the very few Windows native applications.
  • Seesmic Look had an impressive launch event, and takes a different approach. Almost a ‘twitter for those who don’t tweet’, it focuses on browsing and navigating through tweets, and grouping them in to topics.
  • Finally, with the advent of the new Retweet system and lists, it brings me sadness to say that Twirl must now be considered obsolete. I now recommend to those who use it to try something else: Echofon for OS X, DestroyTwitter or Seesmic Windows for PC and TweetDeck for power users .
  • Finally a quick heads up to the new Feathers iphone app from fellow (but much smarter) Brightonian Aral Balkan, not a main stream twitter client, but one which allows you to tweet using unusual characters and unicode.

Sept 2010

Much of what was written in the Feb 2010 update is still true, but to summarise:

  • For Windows, I use DestroyTwitter. It is small, compact and has a nice interface. If you want a ‘power user’ client then use tweetdeck, it allows you to manage different accounts, searchers and followers. MetroTwit and Seesmic for Windows are also good clients.
  • For Mac OS X: I use echofon, it’s excellent. A simply interface hides a feature packed client, and the recent introduction of instant updates to your twitter stream is very welcome. Nambu is another great client. Mac users a spoilt for choice with the different clients out there!
  • For iphone I use echofon. However I haven’t really tried any of the many other clients out there.