This is not quite the post I was promising. I said I was going to review a variety of desktop applications for Twitter, draw the comparisons and give some idea of which were the best.
At the time I meant it.
Now I’ve done the research and I’ve had a better idea.
For “better” read “easier”.
There are some people out there who have really devoted a lot of time and energy to exploring all the nooks and crannies of the various Twitter clients available. I was never going to do that, was I? I was just going to give each one a cursory glance and say whether I thought it was pretty or not. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to tell you which ones I use and why and how I came to use them, then I’m going to throw out some links to proper, in-depth reviews of the best clients and let you make up your own minds.
I’m a Mac user, so I really can’t say anything particularly useful about Twitter apps for Windows. Several of the ones I’ll talk about are cross-platform and I’m sure there are some great Windows applications available (I know, I laughed as I typed that) but I don’t know anything about them because I’m not an accountant.
So, where to begin? Let’s start with the web. Not web apps, because that’s a separate post as well (I’m really getting out of doing any work here at all) but the Twitter home page itself. Don’t go there. Stop using it immediately. It’s a clunky, slow, badly designed pain in the arse. The Twitter home page should only be visited when your application of choice has hit its allotted 100 updates per hour and you need to keep up with the Twitter stream until it resets. Otherwise, avoid. You don’t go to BBC TV Centre to watch television so don’t go to the Twitter home page to tweet. Any decent application should be able to handle tweets, @replies, Direct Messages and all the machinations of following and being followed with no problem at all. The only other legitimate reason to visit the home page is when you need to adjust settings/change your photo etc.
The first desktop Twitter app I used was called Spaz. I’m not going to lie; I didn’t do extensive comparisons to arrive at this choice, I chose it because the name made me giggle. At the time Spaz (hee hee) was a pretty good desktop client; basic, functional and easy to use. When I say “at the time” it sounds as if I’m talking about some dim distant time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. I’m actually talking about six months ago; Twitter apps are evolving very fast indeed right now.
I don’t imagine anyone really uses Spaz anymore. There’s nothing really wrong with it and the name still makes me smile but it lacks the pleasing aesthetics and functionality of more recent applications. Crucially, it also does nothing to enhance the Twitter experience. I moved from the wed to Spaz and my Twitter use, which was already almost non-existent, didn’t increase in any marked way.
The application that made Twitter for me and, I suspect many other people, was Tweetdeck. Ian Dodgson’s brilliant application runs on Adobe Air and has cross-platform compatibility. So many people have said they didn’t ‘get’ Twitter until they started using Tweetdeck and that’s certainly true for me. Tweetdeck’s genius lies in its column view and ability to create groups; rather than watch every tweet from every one of your followers scroll by like so much white noise, TD (bored of typing it out in full now) allows you to select your favourite people (or family, work colleagues, whatever) and create groups for them which you can see alongside the main feed. That means you read more of what’s written, can easily keep track of conversations and find yourself much more satisfyingly immersed in the ebbs and flows of the Twitterverse. With built-in URL shortening, Twitpic integration and a host of other really useful little functions, Tweetdeck is still the application by which all others are judged and still seems to be the most popular app for the heavier Twitter user.
Tweetdeck also changed Twitter in a subtle way. Before the ability to group, Twitter took the form of a series of mostly disconnected statements and observations in 140 characters; a snapshot of the world at any given moment. By giving the user the chance to highlight some of the voices within the noise, Tweetdeck turned Twitter into a conversation. Imagine a huge party with hundreds of thousands of guests all talking at once; Tweetdeck gives you the ability to go into the kitchen, pour a glass of wine and chat to a handful of people for a while. Other guests might come in and join and some people might leave but the background noise is dulled for a while and Twitter becomes a place that people want to spend time, not just a service to post updates to.
Back then, I remember thinking that Tweetdeck was the best Twitter would ever get, that I would never want another Twitter application (‘back then’ was about two weeks ago).
If Tweetdeck has one drawback, other than the teething problems that are going to plague any new piece of software in the early stages, it’s that it looks like shit. Really. It’s about the ugliest piece of software I’ve seen since I was a Windows user. I know that shouldn’t really be a primary concern and it’s certainly true that TD’s functionality and level of innovation far outweighs aesthetic considerations but what if another application came along that did everything Tweetdeck did but looked nice too…?
Nambu is that application. Like all the best software, it’s Mac-only (do let me know the second this begins to sound smug and biased, by the way. No? It’s fine? Sure? Okay, I’ll carry on then.) Nambu allows groups but it has three view-options, TD-like columns being one of them, it thread replies after a fashion and it colour-codes replies. It’s not as stable as Tweetdeck but it hasn’t been around as long and will get better with time.
The flipside of the Nambu coin is Seesmic Desktop, another Adobe Air based application, which came to my attention at about the same time. It is another Tweetdeck alternative and works with Windows too. The problem with Seesmic is that it seems to offer nothing that isn’t already provided by Tweetdeck and is every bit as ugly albeit in a different way.
The weird thing about my Twitter usage is that, having been transformed by Tweetdeck’s and then Nambu’s ability to group people and thread conversations, my current application-of-choice doesn’t allow groups at all…
Tweetie is the best looking, most solid Twitter desktop app I have ever used. When I first downloaded it, I didn’t think it would work for me because it wouldn’t let me group my friends together away from the rest of the noise. Then I grew up. I realised that it’s up to me to follow people I find interesting; that inviting a load of people over for a party and then only talking to five of them is a pretty shitty way to behave and that there is a way to interact with Twitter that actually opens you up to meeting new people and engaging with them.
I love Tweetie, from the way in animates the opening of Twitpics to the ability to thread conversations to the button that lets you know if someone is following you. Every time I try using something else, I run back to Tweetie within minutes. I don’t miss replies and, because it can thread conversations, I can still keep up with people but I’m no longer ignoring everyone else. With Tweetie, if I follow you, I see your tweets. If I don’t like them, I have the option to unfollow. So far I have only unfollowed two people though so that’s not bad going.
So, in conclusion, get off the web and get the proper Twitter experience with Tweetdeck, Nambu or Tweetie. The latter is my favourite by far and I cannot ever envisage changing… Well, until next week maybe.
As promised at the top of this post, the lovely people at Smoking Apples have posted some fine reviews of Mac Twitter apps, some of which I haven’t covered here because I’m just too damn lazy:
I’ll write a piece soon on iPhone apps for Twitter and I’m also going to research web apps. I’ve also promised a piece on the ‘rules of twitter use’. If you have an opinion on any of these things or you’d like to add or amend anything in the above article, please leave a comment below.
Now go tweet.