Day: July 12, 2009

Rethinking the Need for a Twitter Client

It was with excitement that I received the notice that the Seesmic Desktop had been upgraded to version 0.4. I’ve tried a number of Twitter clients to try and find the one that fits best with the way that I compute.  I’ve tried Destroy Twitter, Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Spaz, Nambu before settling on Seesmic Desktop.  They are all great programs and selecting one over the other is not a comment on any of them.

I’ve also tried web solutions.  I’ve used the Twitter web interface, the Twitter Search page when I’m following a topic, Twitterfall just because it’s pretty cool, and iTweet.

There are a lot of different things that went into my decision.  Once you get used to columns and real time filtering, you turn Twitter into far more than a conversation area.  When you start to integrate Facebook, you get the ability to stay connected across multiple platforms.  When you can filter or search on the fly, you have the ability to leapfrog onto different conversation/research streams.  When you follow a hashtag, you begin to track a hopefully focussed conversation.  In fact, the more that you work it, the more you appreciate and start searching for functionality without compromise.

All of these needs led me to focus on Seesmic Desktop.  It runs on Windows, Macintosh, and Ubuntu and has the functionality that I want and it serves me nicely.  Probably the best environment that I’ve set up for it involves attaching an external monitor and running it full screen “over there” so that there’s a minimum of keyboard intervention involved.

There are couple of things that have prevented this from being the absolutely, positively, drop dead solution though.

Like most Twitter clients, it runs on Adobe’s Integrated Runtime solution.  So, a cold installation involves installing both AIR and the application itself. Not an onerous task but something to be aware of.  More than the installation though, when you let it run for a while, it does collect huge amounts of information and there is an impact on the computer.  In the worst case, the processor gets very warm and the fan comes on.  That’s a good indication that you’re really crunching.  Generally, though, I’ll just notice that the computer becomes sluggish.  Bringing up the task manager shows why as I’ll see that Seesmic Desktop has grabbed a whack of memory and CPU resources.  A quick exit and then restart of the application resolves the situation.

The second issue is self-inflicted, I know.  When running the Seesmic Desktop on my netbook, 576 vertical pixels doesn’t give a great deal of real estate to display tweets.  When you throw in the avatar, it’s often then you get three or four entries per page and then you’re off and scrolling.  While I appreciate the updates from my friends, I really don’t want to work all that hard to get them.  Sorry.

Netbook screen overlay on desktop – note the size difference

So, after I downloaded the Seesmic Desktop update, I wandered over to the Seesmic Website to read the release notes and notice that Seesmic also has made a web interface available.  Well, there goes the rest of the evening.  Got to check this out. I was so amazed.

It’s in its infancy, but the web version is a pretty faithful replication of the client. You’ve got your columns, your search fields, no multiple Twitter and Facebook account yet but it’s early, no lists – but the cool thing is that it runs inside your browser.  So, no more flipping applications to see updates.  Just a CTRL-TAB in Firefox and you’re looking at your updates.  The web uses OATH to authenticate and then you’re in.  The default is to display your home and mentions.  Additional columns are added as you add searches to your desktop.  Very nice.

Desktop showing home, mentions, and a search column for “teach”

Switch to your collection of direct messages reveals a nice approach.  Often direct messages create their own unique thread of 140 character conversations.  The layout changes as your conversation is displayed as a thread.  Very nice.

DMs – blurred to protect a Zut

But, the thing that put me over the top and has me excited is the little icon on the right bar of any column.  Once clicked, it changes from a full view to one that shows only a single line per tweet.  It works like a teaser – when there are more characters than are visible, you click to display them.  However, this will shine on a netbook where space is at a premium.  Instead of displaying 3 or 4 tweets, this preview now shows you up to about 15 of them.  Oh yeah!  New tweets come in as yellow so that they’re highlighted and then fade to the standard bluish grey over time.  This is a very nice feature.

Spaz has much the same display when you ask for small avatars but doesn’t currently display columns.

So, my first look at this approach is outstandingly positive.  I’m really impressed with what I’m seeing for a first release.  If development continues with the web version like it has with the desktop, this could easily change my approach to staying on top of things with Twitter.

The run so far has been interesting.  Twitter is a web based communication environment that has always had better functionality when accessed by a client. With this functionality, that may go away. When the web provides the same or better functionality and eliminates the need to add additional overhead to your computer, we’re looking at a great approach.

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