October 12, 2009

Designing the Perfect Twitter Client Is Impossible. Tweetie Is Close.

Given Twitter's prominence, it comes as no surprise that there are many different clients out there. Some are designed to give you a single place to update multiple social networks at once. Others are designed to give you easy access to multiple accounts you may have. A few are optimized for your own personal groups or subsets of followers. And depending on which client you have selected, they may display images or rich media in line, may support retweeting (or not), or they could provide advanced functionality for direct messages. But good luck finding a single application that does everything best - one you can use on your desktop, through the Web browser, and on your iPhone too, because, guess what? It doesn't exist.

The flexibility of the Twitter platform and the wide variation, even among the most popular Twitter clients, has led to most users choosing a favorite, but still having multiple clients installed. It's rare for a single user's Tweet stream to go a few days without showing more than one client used - thanks to some clients being best at one utility or another.

This week has seen a great deal of interest in version 2 of Tweetie's iPhone application. Rebooted and reloaded with a boatload of new features and enhancements, Loren Brichter's offering is being lauded as the best on the iPhone, period. But even as I may agree that it's great, the discussion has actually led me to revisit the Mac desktop client of Tweetie, and I have been using it almost exclusively (with the exception of posts that flow from FriendFeed) for the last few weeks.

My Tweetie Desktop In Action (Showing the @Mentions Window)

On September 25th, I posted a note illustrating my then-current view of the Twitter client race, saying: "TweetDeck: Best at Groups. Tweetie: Best on iPhone. Seesmic: Best at DMs. Brizzly: Best at Retweets and Images."

I stand by that comment, because I believe that each of the different applications has forged a space for itself to be best at something. TweetDeck introduced the concept of groups to Twitter (See Review), and while others, like Seesmic, have adopted it, it has maintained a usability lead. Tweetie's latest iteration on the iPhone has extended their lead over the stale Twitterific and the very busy TweetDeck. For direct messages, I have long found Seesmic's Web app to offer the best option for grouping conversations and seeing previous messages between accounts (See Review), and Brizzly makes retweeting a lot easier than Twitter's native client has.

But one major piece I left out from that comment was the use of multiple accounts. And when you think about multiple accounts, it's my opinion that two products support this capability extremely well. The first is Brizzly, which lets you operate under either account by clicking on the avatar, correctly moving over saved searches and all other relevant data. The second is Tweetie, for both the desktop (on the Mac) and the iPhone.

As I've now inherited multiple Twitter accounts for clients, and have also added my @lgshareditems account, as well as a new @privatelg account that I am using primarily for a quieter Twitter experience, a better multiple accounts client was sorely needed, and this is what has pushed Tweetie over the top for me, not just on the iPhone, where everybody is talking about it, but on the Mac too.

Browsing Updates In Tweetie on My @privatelg Account

In April, when Tweetie for Mac debuted, I called it "Clean, Simple and Robust". That's all still true, but now that I am actively managing multiple accounts, and using the product's built in capacity for retweeting, while enjoying the threaded direct message conversations I used to only enjoy in Seesmic Web, it has practically taken over my Twitter stream. I remain quite fond of Brizzly and Seesmic Web through the browser, but don't mind running Tweetie in the background, not feeling the RAM glut that some other AIR-based clients have on my computing power.

At the end of last month, Lifehacker posted a list of what it called its "Five Best Twitter Clients", including TweetDeck, Brizzly, Seesmic, Tweetie and DestroyTwitter. I haven't used DestroyTwitter and don't use Echofon or others, but know that there are some good quality products in addition to the five I chose to focus on (including the first four and the native Twitter Web interface).

No Leading Twitter App Is On Every Platform

Of the five, no single client supports the desktop, the Web and the iPhone. None! TweetDeck and Tweetie lack Web versions, while Brizzly is Web-only, Seesmic doesn't yet have an iPhone app, and Twitter has no official desktop or iPhone application. So there's clear background for the splintering.

I Believe Each Twitter App Excels Somewhere

While each application has its bells and whistles, there are really four major elements I considered when looking at the top clients: Retweets, Direct Messages, Groups and Multi-User Support.

Retweets: Brizzly (reviewed here) has a handy "retweet" option next to every single tweet. Click "retweet" and it sets up a new message from you prefaced by RT. Couldn't be simpler. Tweetie lets you "Repost" a message as well, with the same functionality. TweetDeck and Seesmic also support retweeting, but I don't perceive them as leading in this functionality.

Direct Messages: Seesmic Web does a great job of sorting conversations by author, including how many messages, in a dedicated pane. If I am on the Web and want to respond to a DM, I will do so through Seesmic. But Tweetie's grouped direct messages are visually pleasing and are easily accessible. TweetDeck lumps all direct messages in an "In box" type of column, as does Twitter's native client and Brizzly, although Brizzly can show conversations in line if the activity is live.

Groups: Twitter promises that lists are coming soon, but TweetDeck has made a name for itself with groups, so much so that people wish you could export predefined groups for importing into other services. Brizzly and Seesmic also support groups, and Brizzly promises to integrate with Twitter's Lists option when it shows up. So far, Tweetie isn't doing any groups of any kind that I know of.

Multiple Accounts: As mentioned earlier, Tweetie and Brizzly make multiple account support simple. Seesmic Desktop's mutiple account support is very good, but it hasn't yet migrated to the Web equivalent. TweetDeck's support of multiple accounts is functional, but I have seen many a slipup from people using TweetDeck who have posted to the wrong account, so it could be much more intuitive. Twitter's Web client would just ask you to log out and log in again.

Ignoring extraneous functions like the rich media and real-time definitions of trending topics (where Brizzly excels), the biggest missing aspect to Tweetie, in my opinion, is access to saved searches in the desktop app. They are already highlighted in the iPhone app, so bringing them into the Mac client would be a big benefit indeed.

Selecting your favorite Twitter client is a personal issue at this point. To each their own. There is clearly room for many players given the different permutations of each app. But Tweetie is making things real tough for anybody on the iPhone, and for those who don't need access to groups, it should have the Mac desktop space to itself. This doesn't mean I like Brizzly or Seesmic Web or even TweetDeck any less than any other time I talked about those apps, but today, my stream is full of "from Tweetie" and for good reason.

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