So I haven’t posted anything in a long time. Part of it was the SOPA/PIPA thing and the protest and I said I’d leave the blackout page up until SOPA/PIPA was gone for good and it sort of is and sort of isn’t. But that became an excuse, really, because then I started working on a new blog design which I plan on launching in the next couple months. The design is done, it just needs to be coded, but then I needed to finish the Museum Core framework on which it would be built. Which I did. But then, because Museum Themes takes priority, I decided that we should — once and for all — port our Blogger templates over into WordPress themes, the first of which has been done (Grandma’s Hat Box). After that, I need to update all of our themes so they plug into the Core framework as child themes. Then I need to work on some kind of membership model that allows access to all of our themes for a monthly fee. Then I need to update the Museum Themes site and the Arcane Palette site and then I can work on coding the new site design for this site.
And that’s why I pulled down the SOPA/PIPA page, since the update isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
The new design for jazzsequence.com will be single column, responsive and feature my music and coding projects a lot more than the current (and past) designs. I uploaded some of the mockups a while back…
the blog’s been quiet for a reason. it’s RPM season, which means that in addition to being already busy with clients and projects and our special [ap] side project we were planning to work on this month (ed note: doesn’t look like it’s happening this month :/ ), i’m also trying to get 35 minutes of music or 10 tracks laid down and out the door by the 28th. in addition, i’m busy working on another special side project that i’ve hinted at in my projects section (though i haven’t updated the page in a while). it’s big, long, and i hope i cut about 50 pages in editing because it’s going to be massive.
it 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, ow.ly, that has click counts and analytics similar to what you get with bit.ly. 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.
I wrote this up originally for the Arcane Palette site, but for fun I’m reposting it here, too, because I think it’s fairly useful information. Enjoy!
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We’ve all been there at some point. You’re on the phone with some bored dude behind a computer anywhere between 200 and 9,000 miles away who may or may not speak English like a native but whose name is invariably something as innocuous as John. He sounds like he might know what he’s talking about but in most cases he doesn’t, not really.
If you do business online, you never want this to be your web host.
So how do you find a host that doesn’t suck? The biggest mistake people make with any technological purchase is getting a whole bunch of stuff you don’t need because it sounds important. Most times, this is simply due to lack of information – all those web builders and pre-installed software sound great (even though you’ll probably never use them), but what do you really need? And what does all this stuff mean anyway? I’m going to throw some knowledge at you, because presumably knowledge is power.
Web hosting typically comes in three different flavors: Shared hosting, Virtual Private Servers, and Dedicated Servers.
Shared Hosting plans are where your website is stored on a server that hosts numerous other websites — possibly hundreds. For most small-time sites, this is okay, the load is distributed evenly across all sites and it’s suitable for most incoming traffic. This is what most basic plans are based on. However, if your site is hit by a sudden flood of traffic (from a popular Digg, Tweet, or Google bomb), your site could easily go down, and bring down many others as well, as the server suddenly hits a critical point where it can no longer process incoming requests. This is also why most shared hosting enforces bandwidth caps, after which, your site goes down due to bandwidth restrictions if you reach a certain level.
Dedicated Servers are where you have your very own server all to yourself. There is no sharing with anyone else, because it’s your server. These usually require a skilled admin who knows what he’s doing and are by default, more of a “here it is, now off you go” kind of solution. These are usually powerful machines, and can be used to resell hosting yourself (if you know what you’re doing). For the most part, you’re on your own for support, and If there is ever any kind of issue, it’s usually a hardware issue. Or you broke something. These usually come with a package of tools pre-installed for you on the server but otherwise it’s up to you to put anything you want to run on the server yourself.
Virtual Private Servers are like a combination of both. A VPS is a dedicated server that has been partitioned off into pieces, with each piece acting like its own server. You wouldn’t put as many accounts on it as you would a shared hosting plan, but you are sharing it with other people. The benefit of this is a dedicated server-like environment, with full access and control to do whatever you want, with the compromise that you are sharing it with other people and if you (or they) exceed a critical level of incoming requests, again, it could bring the whole thing down. For all intents and purposes, these are treated like dedicated servers that you can get on the cheap.
What you should be looking for
The kinds of things you should be looking for really varies depending on what you are going to do with your site. You don’t need unlimited bandwidth and storage if you’re only going to launch a few squeeze pages, for example. Often, the most important aspects of your environment are the hardest to get hard data on unless you’re getting a dedicated server – RAM, CPU speed, hard drive speed. Instead, hosts like to give you “bandwidth”, which is the amount of data passed through your site. But that tells you nothing about how quickly that data is accessed.
At some point I found a website that listed just about every host you could think of in the world, and where they ranked with each other in terms of speed. A lot of them were close enough for it to not even matter. Since then, I can’t find the site again, but some good advice I’ve learned is to not be married to any one web host – the minute you start thinking there may be something wrong, start looking for something better. They suggested using google for “<hostname> sucks” and seeing what your prospective host ranks versus every other host you’re comparing to. Invariably, people will talk when their service sucks, but when it’s working, they’ll keep quiet – searching for what “sucks” might be the best way to find what doesn’t suck, or what sucks less, at least.
My rule of thumb with web hosts is that they should be invisible – you should never, ever have any situation where you think “my web host is…” Because it should just work. It should just be there. You shouldn’t have to think about it. If you’re thinking about it, it means that there’s something in the way and that is the path to problems. Most often, this happens when you’re dealing with tech support, but not always. A lot of hosts have their own proprietary control panels which are awkward and limited if you are used to the standard cPanel or something similar.
Web hosts that suck
Here’s a few hosts I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole:
GoDaddy – let’s be honest. GoDaddy is a domain registration service with hosting tacked-on. The only reason they do hosting at all is because they need a way to get more cash out of your pocket after you already shelled out a few bucks for a domain, and because they know that a lot of people won’t be patient enough to shop around for actually decent hosting. Their own website lags when I go there and try to load the page – how good could their hosting possibly be? The answer: awful. And if you are using WordPress? Even worse. Their servers are ill-equipped to deal with even the most basic WordPress blog, and their backend is cumbersome and counter-intuitive. I don’t even like using them for domain registration – I’ve had much better experience with domain.com. domain.com, unlike GoDaddy and some other domain registrars out there, doesn’t hide the process of moving your domain to another registrar – it’s right there as an option from a dropdown list. Most places you have to submit a special request, or go through a secret back panel after uttering the holy words. Domain.com is simple, easy to use, and uncluttered, and I’d choose them over GoDaddy any day.
APlus – there were a few months when we first started doing design where we had a run of really bad experiences with web hosts. It didn’t really matter what the specific issue was, there just always was an issue, and invariably the host in these cases was APlus. I don’t even remember what the specifics are, I just remember that there were 3 or 4 things in a row that had horrible problems with weeks of going back and forth with tech support and they were all hosted on APlus. Even one experience like this would have sent me running.
Netfirms – back before we were doing web design as a business and it was still just a hobby for me, one of our early projects was Chocolate Cat Studio, which was the umbrella for Erin’s pottery. One of the ideas was to eventually find a way to sell stuff online. A website was built, and because I didn’t want to pay for hosting, I did some research for free, Geocities-like website hosting. That’s how I originally found Netfirms – which advertises itself as site hosting for small businesses. The restriction for the free hosting was that you had to display a banner ad. That seemed okay at the time, and I hid it in a nondescript location. A few weeks later, I found the site I built plastered with huge banners that broke the site. Broke, because the site was using frames (you laugh now, but once upon a time, frames were quite the thing, I’ll have you know), so the banner was auto-inserted into the header of every single page – including the frame. Besides that, the site was slow. This ended my brief period of having any respect at all for Netfirms. Only recently have I had an experience with them as an actual domain host and found them to be even more abhorrent than I had originally assumed. Their database server on this particular site is so slow as to be non-existent, and their technical support is, by all accounts, also MIA.
Web hosts that don’t suck
1and1 – this is the host we use for Arcane Palette, jazzsequence, and all of our other projects. Also, we maintain several client sites on our 1and1 account as well. Across all of them, I have never had any problems. In 2 years we’ve had maybe a total of 5-6 hours of downtime and that was just one day. The admin panel is easy to find what you need quickly, without a bunch of crap you don’t really need cluttering things up. I know that it’s industry standard to use cPanel, but I find the interface cumbersome and annoying. 1and1’s back-end may be proprietary, but I can navigate it easily and get what I need to get done, which is good both from a developer and from a newbie standpoint.
Nexcess.net – it’s sort of a thing if you hit the Magento forums that if you don’t have a server or host that is tuned a specific way, your Magento site is going to be slow. Just take a look at our demo site that we use for development. This is the way your store will behave if you don’t have a dedicated server. Or a specialized Magento package from Nexcess. Now go to Wild Oats Boutique. The site screams. When we moved from their old host to Nexcess, the difference was like night and day. These guys are good, fast, and have great tech support. They are definitely one to keep your eye on.
Hostgator – Hostgator is one of those that always shows up in these lists. And it’s true, they’re good. I can’t say much about Hostgator – and that’s a good thing. They pass my “it’s invisible” test. Any site I’ve ever worked with that was hosted by Hostgator (and there have been many) I never had a single problem with, I never had to think about the server environment or hosting, it just worked the way it was supposed to.
AN Hosting – AN Hosting powers Upstart Blogger, among others. As Upstart Blogger gets a lot of traffic, is always fast loading, and its’ author has nothing but phenomenally good things to say about his host, I am willing to accept it as given that it works pretty well for him. And if you sign up with his affiliate code, you get his 30 day blogging course for free, which may be a bonus if you’re planning on starting a new blog anyway.
(mt) – Media Temple (mt) is what the big guys use. It powers pretty much every major, high traffic design site I go to. As such, they aren’t cheap, but they make up for it in speed and reliability. if you’re shopping for a dedicated server and your primary interest is quality, these guys should be what you compare everything else against – consider this the top of the line model.
That concludes my rant on hosts. I hope it’s been helpful. If it has, be sure and pass this on. and if you ever want to get in touch with us, feel free to drop us a note on Twitter or write on our wall on our Facebook page, or just send us an email and we will get back to you.