the quest for the perfect twitter client

hootsuiteit won’t surprise anyone who visits this blog or knows anything about me that i’m a bit of a geek.  i mean that in the broadest sense of the term.  geek as in music geek — not only am i a music snob, but i was also a band geek, and, yes, i listen to bands that don’t even exist yet.  i’m a tv & movie geek, often replaying entire scenes from memory from monty python, or pukp fixtion or more obscure movies like mean guns (you have all betrayed the syndicate…).  but that makes sense, because i’m also a theatre geek, and there’s a special place in my heart for phantom.  and of course, i’m a technology geek — i’ve been hotrodding my computer with software and customizations since my first windows 95 box, and i’ve been building computers for over 10 years.  i’m always interested in emerging technologies in hardware and software. so when it comes to twitter apps, i’ve tried a lot, and have developed fairly specific wishes and discerning tastes.  i started out not having a lot of expectations or needs but as my usage of twitter grew and i adopted more different aspects of the service, so did my features wish list grow.  this is what my internal features wish list looks like, and note: i have yet to meet a client that meets all of my desires, but i’ve found some that come close:

  • multiple twitter account management
  • facebook integration
    • in particular, ability to manage facebook pages
  • desktop notifications for new tweets and ability to turn notification off for some accounts, full tweets for selected accounts
  • support for twitter lists
  • low resource footprint
  • ability to see full conversations and @replies inline with regular timeline

and here’s what i’ve tried in the order that i used them (note: this is not really intended to be a review of each app, since i don’t presently use them now and in many cases it’s been a while since i have used them and they may have fixed some of the problems they once had.  each of them is worth checking out, though if you read to the end of this post, there’s really just one client that i presently use that, i think, will blow all of these out of the water.)

Spaz – Spaz was the first twitter client i used.  Spaz is a great, attractive, simple adobe air twitter app for a single twitter account.  in fact, out of the lot of these apps, Spaz is one of the prettiest (second only to Skimmer).  as of when i used it last, Spaz did not have support for multiple accounts or facebook, and twitter lists didn’t exist yet.  it’s really just a basic twitter client that i liked a lot and didn’t have a lot of expectations put on it.  but after a while i noticed i wasn’t getting tweets from all the people i was following all the time, so i found…

twhirl – around this time, we created our @ArcanePalette account, so being able to control multiple twitter accounts was a bonus.  enter twhirl, a great, multi-account adobe air app that also integrates FriendFeed.  i used twhirl for a long time. i don’t really (ever) use FriendFeed, but i have set up an account and thought it was cool that it was integrated but i didn’t like the huge notifications from FriendFeed especially since a lot of them just duplicated tweets from people i was following.  twhirl seemed lighter than spaz, too, but right about the time that seesmic acquired twhirl, it started having issues and crashing, and there weren’t any updates coming out to fix it.  so i figured i would try…

seesmic – seesmic has been my app of choice for the past several months.  it’s a lot like TweetDeck, but it seems less problematic, i’ve had less memory leak-type issues with seesmic and they have frequent updates.  the one time i had issues with seesmic after a version update, within hours they had a new version with a fix.  team seesmic is pretty awesome, and work on a variety of different interfaces, including a new beta windows-native seesmic and a web-based seesmic .  seesmic has the added bonus of being able to not only manage multiple twitter accounts, but also manage your facebook account and facebook pages you administer as well.

TweetDeck – i tested out TweetDeck, but was disappointed by how heavy it was in resource usage, and i thought the user interface was clunky.  i didn’t like the fact that tweet notifications just said “1 new tweet” rather than the actual tweet itself.  TweetDeck and Seesmic share a lot of similarities, but somehow — and it may just be a psychological thing, like a natural Windows user versus a natural Mac user — i just tend to drift to Seesmic over TweetDeck.

Bitter – Bitter seemed like a lightweight alternative to twhirl, but it didn’t feel fully developed and had a lot of technical problems.  Bitter is a Windows native client that supports multiple accounts, and is very fast with the lowest resource usage you’ll find in just about any desktop client, but that comes at the cost of crashes and not getting all your updates (last i tried it).

Skimmer – you can check out my full skimmer review here.  briefly, Skimmer is a gorgeous social networking client that lacks support for multiple twitter accounts and, while it’s main claim to fame is integrating multiple social networks, it lacked other social networks i cared about (like LinkedIn) and included others i didn’t (like blogger).

TweetTree – TweetTree is an interesting web-based project. essentially it’s a regular twitter page with @mentions and webpage links and videos displayed inline in the stream.  it makes it a great alternative to just using the main twitter site, but the conversations sometimes don’t display correctly (old @replies display inline to unrelated @mentions to that user if the user hasn’t responded to every @mention).  i think i discovered this via @neilhimself .

Digsby – Digsby is great, but thought it appears on twitter’s suggested applications page, it isn’t really suited to be a twitter client as much as the other apps mentioned — i use that primarily as a messenger app, since it connects to all of my instant messaging networks including facebook, and displays updates from networks i don’t connect to every day like linkedin and myspace. you can use it as a twitter client and (i believe) it supports multiple twitter accounts, but the app is designed like a messenger, so imagine cramping twitter into yahoo! instant messenger and you’ll get an idea of how well the two adapt to each other.

Brizzly – brizzly is another multi-account twitter client that’s web-based, but somehow i just couldn’t get into it, and was put off by the visual style.

i’ve used seesmic pretty exclusively since twhirl and haven’t met a match for all of its features.  that is, until i tried HootSuite.

i follow @atomicpoet who’s the social media strategist at the company behind HootSuite and is one of many people who gush about it. increasingly, i was finding people that i follow using hootsuite, but when i first met hootsuite, i got the impression (possibly because it said it was the “professional” twitter app) that it was a client you had to pay for, so i avoided it.  since their big 2.0 upgrade a few weeks ago, however, i figured i’d give it another look and discovered that it was a free, web based twitter client.  HootSuite does many of the things that seesmic and TweetDeck do with easy multiple account management, and customizable columns.  add to this hootsuite’s own in-house url shortener,, that has click counts and analytics similar to what you get with  with their most recent update, there’s now integrated access to facebook and linkedin (although not facebook pages…yet).  but wait, there’s more…a lot of people — myself included — use twitterfeed to feed rss feeds into their twitter stream.  but a problem i have with twitterfeed (which is shared and was summed up by @johnonolan a couple days ago) is that often it takes forever to do anything at all.  it seems like may be it’s related to the number of feeds you’re using, because i set an account up for erin that doesn’t have nearly the lag that mine does — but that doesn’t really excuse the problem, because you still need a (functional) way to send rss feeds to twitter; one that doesn’t take forever to go from one page to another. that’s just one more thing HootSuite has built into their app.  their rss interface lacks some of the customization options you get from twitterfeed, like the ability to filter for specific tags or content, but the main functionality — being able to enter a rss feed url and how often you want to tweet a link from that feed — is still there, and behaves pretty much identical to twitterfeed without the lag.  also, you can share management over all or just some of your twitter accounts with other people.  just enter their email address as a user, and then they can create a HootSuite account and get access to all the accounts you’ve marked to share with them.  that way, you can manage a bunch of different accounts as a team, and each user has their own separate account, so it’s much more secure than all using the same password to access twitter.  as if that wasn’t enough, HootSuite also built-in a tweet later feature similar to every other tweet scheduler function you can find on dedicated services some of which cost money for that very ability.

in short, by “professional twitter client”, what they mean is: a powerful twitter application that has everything you’d ever want in a twitter application as well as some stuff you didn’t even know you wanted.  what HootSuite sadly lacks is desktop notifications (not surprising, since it’s a web app), and integration for twitter lists (correction: they do support lists, it’s in beta).  you are able to show entire conversations — @replies have a show conversation link that shows the discussion underneath the tweet you are looking at, which i just discovered and think is pretty awesome.  it is still a web app, and i generally have an aversion to web apps, but with google chrome, i’ve solved that by creating an application shortcut so HootSuite has its own application window rather than being embedded inside a normal browser tab or window.  you’d think something overflowing with features like this would be plastered with ads.  interestingly enough, this isn’t the case; currently there’s just a couple small ad links to vote for HootSuite on Mashable’s open web awards (i did!), for their “hootlet” — a browser shortcut that works like a “tweet this” link — and to “tweet the love” which automatically generates a promotional tweet for HootSuite.  hopefully it stays this way, i’d hate to see such a great app — with a friendly interface, i might add — ruined by a surplus of annoying ads.

I still run seesmic.  though, really, the only reason i do is because i like having all my @replies from all my different accounts in one place.  at some point, i’m guessing that may be a feature of HootSuite later, or maybe i just need to get used to creating a new tab with the @replies listed in columns by account.  at the end of the day, HootSuite is the best twitter client i’ve found, web app or otherwise.


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