twitter client madness

I’ve been using Twitter for what seems like a long time now. I’ve used a few Twitter clients by now, starting with Twitterific on my Mac, but eventually gravitated towards the Adobe Air-based twhirl on my laptop and twitterfon on my iPhone. Both are free and neither one has any ads. I can’t say enough about twitterfon. It’s pretty fast, has a good interface that avoids excess, and the developer is extremely responsive with updates. twhirl (how’d they come up with that name anyway?) is, like all the Adobe AIR-based applications, marred by a very non-Mac-like, inconsistent interface that is at times confusing and even misleading. But twhirl is nice in several ways:

  • It doesn’t take up much screen real estate
  • Like the Twitter Web site, there is a window always visible for composing new tweets
  • It has pretty full functionality
  • twhirl provides growl-like notifications of new tweets
  • Font size is relatively customizable, along with the UI colors (although I’d love to see more and better options)

I went to the developer’s site last night out of curiosity, and signed up for what was billed as an opportunity to preview the next version of twhirl. What this is, however, is a preview of a new TweetDeck-like Twitter client called Seesmic Desktop. Apparently twhirl was acquired last April by a French development team, and I’ve now read conflicting accounts as to whether or not twhirl will be replaced by Seesmic Desktop. Anyway, I test-drove Seesmic Desktop and was left wanting. First, the positives:

  • Column view, if you want it (I don’t)
  • A useful sidebar
  • Like twhirl, a window (on top, rather than the bottom, unlike twhirl) to compose new tweets
  • Ability to group contacts into different lists
  • A unified search field

Now the bad news, although keep in mind this is clearly not a polished application yet, just a preview of a work in progress:

  • The notification is weak. It just displays the message that you have received a new tweet, not the content, unlike twhirl (which also color codes the notifications, depending on whether it is a direct message, a reply or a routine message)
  • Font size is not customizable, and the fonts are too small for my eyes
  • Column size is not expandable, which is a shame since I’d love for my Home column to expand horizontally to take better advantage of my MacBook Pro’s 15“ screen
  • No way to view who’s following you, or who you’re following
  • Like any AIR application, a crappy interface
  • Few preferences whatsoever
  • A really lame name (honestly, ”seesmic?“)

I’m hoping most of these issues become moot in the coming week, since the developer seems to be very open to feedback and realizes the key criticisms of the program (that it’s too much like TweetDeck, not enough like twhirl). It has promise, but not enough to make me switch from twhirl. Yet.

Just out of curiosity, I did try TweetDeck, but only briefly. Too many buttons on top, and again, I don’t really need the columns. True, you can remove columns, but then you get a warning message that this can’t be undone, when it’s clear that all one has to do is click the desired button on top. It integrates with FaceBook (as Seesmic Desktop also promises to do eventually), but that’s readily accomplished anyway through FaceBook’s Twitter app, so I’m not sure that’s a compelling reason for me to use TweetDeck.

I also read about Nambu. It caught my attention initially for no other reason than it shares a name with a physics Nobel laureate from my alma mater, but I doubt Yochiro Nambu uses Twitter. It has a Mac-like interface but seems cluttered to me. I’ve also heard that it has some stability issues, so I didn’t see any compelling reason to download it. I probably should, but time is fleeting.

Yesterday, I also heard a flood of information about a new desktop client called Tweetie, which apparently has been very well-received on the iPhone. From all the stuff I’ve read, this is the perfect Twitter application for Mac users, with a great UI, functionality, etc. I read stuff about Tweetie that was as enthusiastic as the stuff I used to read about Twitterific, and that application seems to have less buzz around it nowadays. What that suggests to me is that users of various Twitter apps are fickle. If someone invents a better Twitter client, people will migrate from what they’re currently using since there is little or no cost to doing so.

Well, here’s a reality check on Tweetie, since after road testing it, I’m not a fan:

  • It costs. $14.95 for the desktop client, $2.99 for the iPhone client. I’m cheap, and didn’t see any marginal difference worth that much money compared with the free apps out there. True, the desktop client (not the iPhone version) is available in a free version with ads, but you also get reminder popups every so often inviting you to purchase the ad-free version.
  • Nice UI, with very readable text and an iChat threaded format that is just like the one used in Twitterfon. But rather than having a window always present to write a new tweet, you have to initiate the process through either the menu bar or a keystroke combination, or the Dock icon or a subtle icon in the lower left corner. I like the open window paradigm.
  • Bad name. Sorry, but ”Tweetie“ sounds stupid.
  • Retweeting is in a non-customizable format (ie, it’s always ”via @xxxxx, rather than RT @xxxxx). Not a big deal, but I like the RT convention and wish I could choose the format, which I can do in both twhirl and Seesmic Desktop.

So I’m back to twhirl on my desktop and am continuing with Twitterfon on my iPhone. What I’d really love to see is a way to sync between Twitter apps. There’s talk of Nambu, I believe, being able to do this at some point, but at the server level, it would be great to have this as a universal Twitter feature so that it would be application-independent.

What would get me to switch to Tweetie? Drop the onerous reminder windows in the free version, for starters, or at least drop the price. And while many would disagree, I’d love to see the option of having a composition window open all the time, since that’s kind of the Twitter paradigm. I have no issue with shareware and feel that developers should be paid for their efforts if they choose. But I also reserve the right to not bother to purchase someone’s product if it isn’t compelling enough to warrant the price. I just don’t see how it’s worth $14.95.

And since Twitterfon is doing just fine by me and is free, I can’t justify switching to Tweetie on the iPhone either. I was thinking of even trying the iPhone app for three bucks, but after reading some reviews in the iTunes Store, I’m definitely sticking with Twitterfon. There doesn’t seem to be any significant advantage over Twitterfon, which as I mentioned is free, and there are limitations compared with Twitterfon. Tweetie on the iPhone doesn’t cache anything, so startup is slow since it has to reload all the tweets. Also, there is no notification of new messages, unlike Twitterfon, and you have to manually refresh since fetching is not automated.

At the same time, there is a lot to love about Tweetie. It’s compact, yet full featured and has a UI that is very usable and highly readable. It does seem slower than twhirl, at least to me, and I’d be curious how various Twitter clients compare with regard to speed. The main issues for me with Tweetie are its cost and lack of a notification window for incoming tweets. Maybe it could tie in with Growl at some point, which would solve that issue for me. I can live with having to type Command-N for a new tweet, but the other issues are show stoppers for me, at least right now. Still, it is a cool application, and I probably will try it some more, hoping the ads or nuisance window aren’t too intolerable.