more hard choices: new twitter apps


I’ve been sold on twhirl for my laptop Twitter needs for some time. It’s a highly capable, free app that displays everything in a single window, color codes tweets to distinguish direct messages and replies, has great notifications of new tweets and is limited only in terms of its bad, Adobe AIR-created interface.

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I really like twhirl’s functionality and have learned to live with its counterintuitive interface. That said, it’s clear that twhirl has a limited lifespan, as it was acquired last year by a company called Seesmic, and that company is devoting most of its resources to what I’m told is a replacement for twhirl, called Seesmic Desktop, but one that doesn’t yet have all or even most of twhirl’s functionality.

Seesmic Desktop has been all the rage lately, especially as it was just updated to include Facebook feeds and an increased font size (by 1 pt). Clearly targeted at displacing TweetDeck users, Seesmic Desktop allows users to not only post to Facebook and read current posts to one’s Wall, but also indicate if one “likes” a friend’s post. Planned for the future is the ability to comment on individual feeds. The paradigm is similar to TweetDeck, in terms of multiple columns if one wants. Seesmic is also noteworthy for allowing multiple Twitter accounts as well as the ability to group people one is following on Twitter into different groups. Seesmic has promise, but so far lacks the clear detailed notifications of twhirl, as well as the ability to mark tweets as read. The interface, while slightly better than twhirl, does not allow customization and is pretty boring in my opinion.

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Seesmic is a very usable twitter (and facebook) client, although it still lacks many of twhirl’s best features such as font customization, themes, detailed notifications, the ability to view someone’s profile within the app itself, and several others. However, it is clearly a work in development, and the developer has indicated in at least one tweet that twhirl’s functionality will be rolled in. I like the FaceBook integration, and the fact that images in FaceBook posts are displayed nicely. At the end of the day, though, it is still an AIR application, and it shows. The window above actually ran below my OS X dock, so cross-platform compatibility has its costs.

Which brings me to two OS X-native twitter apps under development. The first is Beak, which is the first commercial application from developer Mike Rundle, who is very accessible and responsive via Twitter. Beak is similar to Tweetie, but has in-window threading of tweets, which is a nice idea. I like Beak’s GUI much better than Tweetie’s, but it remains a work in progress (although an update is due out this week to address some shortcomings). Current issues include some bugs, lack of the ability to address a direct message with a click of a button (there is a direct message button, but you have to fill in the recipient’s name, at least until the update comes out).

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Like twhirl, there is a message entry window on the bottom, which I prefer to that of Seesmic (which is on top, and not customizable at this time). You can’t see a user’s timeline, however, nor which twitter client they are using. There is no support right now for hashtags (I’m sure that’s coming). And I’m not aware that FaceBook integration is in the cards, although I don’t see that as a bad thing, since it allows the application to focus on one thing and do it well. Beak also has the ability to provide statistics on URLs included in tweets, although that hasn’t worked as promised for me.

But as of right now, Beak isn’t my optimal solution, although that could change with the next update. I need something that has the basic functionality one requires, along with some niceties, like what I get from twhirl. What all current Twitter apps tend to have as baseline functionality is this:

  • Ability to reply, send direct messages, view current tweets
  • Retweet
  • Include the timestamp of tweets
  • Distinguish between direct messages and @ replies
  • Follow/Unfollow users
  • View a user’s profile and timeline
  • Do searches
  • Parse hashtags
  • Preferable: include a user’s real name and twitter client
  • Shorten URLs via one or more services
  • Upload images to twitpic and other services

For the moment (and I’m suspecting most of us serious twitter users are fickle about our applications; when something better comes along, we drop what we’re using and try the latest and greatest), I’m actually quite taken with EventBox.

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EventBox has a nice UI, a text entry window at the bottom, support for URL shortening (type command-J), FaceBook (and RSS,Flickr,Google Reader and Reddit) integration, notifications either through Growl or via a very capable transparent window, quick tweet entry via a keyboard shortcut, and much more. About the only thing it lacks right now is photo uploading, threads, user profile (although one can see a user’s timeline within the app itself) and an indication of which client a user posted with. It’s fast, OS X-native, and the 14-day beta is free (it will be $15 at the end of the beta period, but the 14 days can be extended with permission of the developer). EventBox would benefit from more documentation up front, but it’s a great application, and has become my twitter app of choice. For now…

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