Better Twittering Through Software

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Last week I ran a Beginner's Guide to Twitter where I described the very basics of the service that's getting so much play its creators are among the most 100 influential people according to Time Magazine. One of my main pieces of advice was to use Twitter not via the Twitter.com Web site itself, but rather through an application.

This week I'm looking at the best of these apps. By doing so I'm reiterating my advice: You can love Twitter and hate Twitter.com without worrying about the conflict. Twitter (the communications platform) is an interesting new medium. Twitter.com, the default site that most people use Twitter from, is a mess.

Try these apps and services instead:

PC or Mac apps

Windows PCs and Macs can both run applications written for the man-in-the-middle platform called Adobe Air. These Air products, among the most popular Twitter apps, give you more control and a prettier view of your Twitter universe than you'll get from Twitter itself.

If you hang out in a conference room full of geeks, you'll see that many of them are running TweetDeck on their computers. This is a Twitter application that shows multiple columns of Twitter data. Each column gets a different slice of your Twitter environment. You can set up columns to monitor just particular people or groups of people that you follow, and columns that monitor all of Twitter for keywords no matter who says them. The latest version of TweetDeck will also show you updates from your Facebook friends. I use TweetDeck myself to show me these columns: Everything my friends are saying; Everything people have said on Twitter in reply to me "@Rafe;" Direct messages only to me; Everything people say about the site I run (a search for "Webware"); and my Facebook frends' updates. When I'm tracking a breaking news story, I replace my Webware search column with a search on the keyword of the story. TweetDeck also handles the step of creating short Web links for you automatically, and it will work with the picture publishing service TwitPic to make posting images easier.

I rely on TweetDeck. It makes Twitter my social dashboard.

One of the first really big Twitter apps was Twhirl, a flexible product that lets you flip between views (all friends, replies, etc) quickly, as well as monitor Facebook and other services like FriendFeed. Twhirl also lets you monitor more than one Twitter account at a time, which TweetDeck does not. Twhirl will eventually be replaced by Seesmic Desktop, a new version of the app that blends TweetDeck's multi-column layout with some of Twhirl's best features. It adds some really nice touches, too, such as the capability to blend the updates from multiple services into one column, or break them into separate ones easily. It also lets you bookmark search queries and groups of users that you can recall in an instant even if they're not displaying in your main view. Like TweetDesk, Seesmic Desktop will create short URLs and picture links, and it will let you create pictures and videos directly from your Webcam, if you have one. It's still being developed but is worth watching.

Destroy Twitter is the popular newcomer in this group. Aesthetically and functionally it's a triumph. New items scroll gently onto the page, and it handles multiple ad-hoc groups very well. It works in both single- and multi-column mode, but it doesn't expand to show you as much information (as many columns) as TweetDeck or Seesmic desktop.

Windows only

Most of the big Twitter apps run on the Air platform and will work on either Windows or Mac, but if you're a big user of Outlook on your Windows computer, you might (might) also want to check out OutTwit, which puts your Twitter activity into an inbox in your Outlook e-mail application. I tried it and found it overwhelming -- Twitter and e-mail don't belong together, in my opinion -- but people whose brains are wired into Outlook might find it valuable.

The instant messenger client Digsby, which I have enjoyed using to access my AIM and Yahoo instant messenger accounts, can also work as a client to Twitter (and Facebook). As OutTwit forces Twitter into an e-mail app, Digsby does for instant messaging. If you're on IM a lot and don't want yet another communications app on your desktop, it's worth a look. I do like the dedicated Twitter apps better, though.

Mac only

Air apps are nice, but there are some Mac-specific Twitter apps that do a better job of fitting into the operating system. Eventbox and Tweetie are two very Mac-ish Twitter apps you might also like. Eventbox looks like it was made by Apple. Tweetie looks even better. Neither are multi-column, though.

Mobile phones

If you have an iphone, you can access Twitter via SMS like everyone else, through the phone's built-in browser, or you can get a Twitter app. There are several, but I strongly recommend Tweetie for the iPhone (it's made by the same people who make the Mac client, but it looks very different). It's fast and intuitive, and allows you to do useful things like save searches for later access. Many people also like Twitterfon, but Tweetie is better. Blackberry users might want to check out UberTwitter and TwitterBerry.

Search sites

In my Beginnger's Guide to Twitter, I recommended that new users should spend some time exploring Twitter Search. But like Twitter.com, the Twitter Search site search.twitter.com has serious limitations. A very good alternative is Twazzup, which shows you not just standard Twitter Search results, but also all sorts of information related to you search, like the most influential Twitter users you write about the search topic, a list of keywords for further exploration, and a list of search hits ranked by popularity, not just recency, which is the only way Twitter Search displays results. Other Twitter search tools don't measure up, so I won't even mention them here. Try Twazzup if you find yourself using Twitter Search at all.

Follow rafe on Twitter.
By Rafe Needleman
By Rafe Needleman

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