Looking at TweetDeck anew

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One of the software programs that really kick-started wide use of Twitter in its early days was TweetDeck, first released in 2008.

Acclaimed in particular by early adopters, TweetDeck quickly became the third-party app of choice for power users of Twitter because of its ability to let you do far more with Twitter than you could on the website. Developed to work on Adobe AIR, it ran on different platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, it just worked. There was a version for mobile devices and one for iPads. Broadly, TweetDeck in its various guises was regarded as superior to other third-party Twitter apps. It enabled you to manage your status updates to Facebook as well.

In short, if you were a power user, TweetDeck was your tool of choice.

The shine wore off a bit when Twitter acquired TweetDeck in 2011 and subsequent development of the app seemed to shift in a different direction. Soon it fell out of favour with many, including me, especially after a native Windows version was released which I didn’t think was very good at all.

Earlier this year, I switched to MetroTwit, a third-party app from Australian developers Pixel Tucker, that is designed for Windows, in particular Windows 8. It offers many features similar to those you see in TweetDeck.

While I do like it a lot, especially the overall look and feel, in my experience it can be a bit flaky with frequent crashes and other errors. Maybe the culprit includes the .NET Framework 4 required to run MetroTwit (and I think this version of .NET is a bloated beast that slows down my PC). So if you want stable, MetroTwit may not be the app for you yet. The version for Windows 8 might be better; I haven’t tried that one.

Yesterday, I encountered a terrific in-depth assessment – far more than just a review – of where TweetDeck has got to now which has prompted me to try the Windows version again.

In “How I learned to stop worrying and love new Tweetdeck,” Storyful journalist Felim McMahon presents a thoughtful, detailed perspective of TweetDeck from the journalist’s point of view. But anyone will find this most useful in understanding a great deal about TweetDeck’s key functionality and how to make use of it.

It starts thus:

[...] This article examines some reasons why those who are not using Tweetdeck should use it — including a tour using quick-fire diagrams. I’ll also look at some reasons why people who have avoided the new Tweetdeck might want to make peace with it, and some workarounds for its remaining shortcomings. (Aficionados handling a large number of lists may like to skip to the end of the piece for some handy tips.)

Why use Tweetdeck?

The best and perhaps singular reason to use Tweetdeck is to monitor and manage a large number of Twitter streams at once. Many of the streams you’ll want to keep an eye on are related to your own account – including your Timeline, Interactions and the Activity column.

What follows is a rich essay including annotated screenshots and diagrams that really do help you fully understand all that McMahon explains. It is the best explanation of what you can do with TweetDeck that I’ve read.

Read it yourself, and see if you don’t go and grab TweetDeck straightaway!

TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop: a tough choice

awesomeEver since TweetDeck appeared on the Twitter scene in 2008, I’ve been a user and a big fan. Since then, it’s been the primary way I interact with Twitter on my computer desktop. Even though I don’t use many of TweetDeck’s bells and whistles beyond its core purpose – sending and receiving messages via Twitter – it remains my third-party Twitter app of choice on the desktop.

I could almost say the same about Seesmic Desktop, a competing app for interacting with Twitter (and, like TweetDeck, much more). I tried Seesmic Desktop when it first appeared last year. I liked it although as an early beta, it couldn’t really hold a candle to TweetDeck at the time. Things have moved on substantially since then and, today, its evolution as Seesmic Desktop 2 is a genuine match in so many ways for TweetDeck.

This post isn’t a review of either or both – you can read one like this recent and good comparison review by HTMLCenter a couple of months ago (and Google for others although most results are reviews of older versions from a year ago or more). What I want to do here is highlight a couple of things about TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop 2.

In short, I like Seesmic Desktop 2. A lot. Overall, I like it the same as I like TweetDeck. And therein lies a dilemma for both with users like me who are more interested in good and simple functionality for interacting with Twitter that you can rely on than all the bells and whistles I mentioned.

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Both apps offer a user experience that’s so similar in terms of satisfaction with that experience that choosing one over the other really is difficult.

So here are the top five things about both that I have in my mind when thinking about which one to use, comparing the versions I have installed on a  desktop computer and a laptop both running Windows 7 (TweetDeck 0.35.1 and Seesmic Desktop 2 1.0.1.1320:

  1. TweetDeck remembers its size and position on your desktop when you next load it. Seesmic Desktop 2 doesn’t so you have to resize it every time. That’s a major irritation to me. (T 1 – 0 S)
  2. TweetDeck has a spell checker when you type your tweet – highly useful for a clumsy typist like me – but Seesmic doesn’t (T 2 – 0 S)
  3. TweetDeck lets you see the underlying URL behind a shortened one when you hover your mouse over it, letting you know where you’re going before you click. Seesmic doesn’t (T 3 – 0 S)
  4. Seesmic Desktop 2 has some nifty plugins that enhance its usefulness – I especially like Sticky – better than TweetDeck in some areas. (T 3 – 1 S)
  5. Seesmic Desktop 2 is just more elegant than TweetDeck. Yes, I know, that’s a very subjective thing. But important to me. (T 3 – 2 S)

So for me, both are so close together in usefulness that it’s hard to see the gap.

Still, there is a gap. And it’s why TweetDeck for me is – by a whisker – my preferred desktop app for interacting with Twitter.

Loic, if you can fix at least the first one of my 5 points, things could be different right away!

[Later] Re my five points, Loic responded on Twitter:

[...] we’re working on the 3 points to improve, the 2 first ones are Silverlight limitations [Microsoft] is working on.

The market opportunity for Twitter apps

For day-to-day interacting with Twitter, you can’t beat a good third-party app in my experience.

As to which is the best one, that’s largely a matter of subjective opinion although some popularity measurement is good, too.

My favourite? TweetDeck followed closely by Seesmic Desktop which I’m trying out. Those are what I use on the desktop and the laptop. I have other favourites for mobile devices.

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But if you look around, you’ll see that there are literally hundreds of applications you can use to interact with Twitter, nearly all for free.

Here’s as good a popularity measure as any – the top 20 Twitter clients (third-party apps) as measured by numbers of users by Twitstat. The numbers update daily.

I’ve taken the top 20 you see above from Twitstat’s larger total (some 224 different Twitter clients, says Twitstat) from which you can note some interesting aspects.

First, the ‘app’ out front by a large margin is the web, ie, direct access to twitter.com with a desktop (or laptop) web browser, at 26.61% of users according to Twitstat.

In second place is TweetDeck with 11.22% of users. Twhirl (the still-active predecessor to Seesmic Desktop) is fifth with 3.69%. Seesmic Desktop just makes it into this list at number 20 with 0.78%.

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While TweetDeck is the current leading desktop app, I reckon Seesmic Desktop will soon come knocking on its door especially as that app continues developing to add new features and functionality and as Twhirl presumably gets less developer attention. See what Seesmic founder and CEO Loic Le Meur has to say.

But doesn’t that view assume TweetDeck does nothing more? I guess it does, which of course I just don’t see happening especially as it’s widely known that developer Iain Dodsworth – who secured venture funding in January – is developing a Pro version, aimed at the business user with additional features for which you’d pay.

And I’ve not even mentioned how both apps also integrate with others services such as Facebook, 12seconds.tv, seesmic video, and more.

If you want to see blow-by-blow comparisons and other commentary about these competing apps, you have plenty of reviews to choose from.

seesmicdesktop500

These three apps – TweetDeck, Twhirl and Seesmic Desktop – are all desktop apps: you install and run them on your computer. Each uses Adobe AIR, meaning among other things that they’re cross-platform and will run on Windows, Mac and Linux machines.

What about mobile?

Twitstat’s numbers show that the most popular app for using Twitter on a mobile device is Tweetie (at number three with 6.25%) which runs only on the iPhone; a version to run on the desktop, on Mac computers, is in the works.

I use Tweetie on my iPhone and it is excellent. On my Nokia N95 8GB, I use Twibble Mobile (not in Twitstat’s list although its desktop sibling Twibble is, at number 46 with 0.21%) although I’m also trying out Gravity (number 32 with 0.36%). Both terrific apps.

And there you have the interesting issue – the market for Twitter apps is not only huge, it’s hugely fragmented right now.

As soon as someone develops the killer app that contains that magical balance of features and functionality and who knows what else that causes the “OMG, I absolutely have got to have that!”, they’ll clean up.

I wonder who that will be.

The utility of TweetDeck

tweetdeck One word that’s getting mentioned a lot by many Twitter users these days is TweetDeck, the desktop application for interacting with your Twitter community that’s the preferred app by increasing numbers of people including me.

And one individual who’s getting a lot of attention at the moment is Iain Dodsworth, the London-based developer of TweetDeck, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Social Media Cafe / Tuttle Club get-together in London on Friday morning.

It’s not often I get the opportunity for a casual face-to-face chat with the developer of a computer program that I use and find very useful, so it was a pleasure for me to have that opportunity.

We had a most interesting conversation that embraced a wide range of topics, some out-loud thinking as well as specific ideas on what might be coming in TweetDeck, including support for multiple accounts, filtering the Twitter content stream, colour highlighting of contacts, a sort of directory of contacts (especially useful if you use TweetDeck on multiple devices), importing and exporting your contacts, a version of TweetDeck for the iPhone, and more.

We also had a bit of a laugh about my recent obsession with seeing my own sent Twitter direct messages within TweetDeck, which you couldn’t do until Iain added that functionality in the latest beta he released just before Christmas. That’s what I call a developer who really does listen to his users!

Christian Payne (aka Documentally) recorded a video conversation with Iain on Friday during which he talked about his plans for TweetDeck including enhancements and planned TweetDeck Pro. It’s a good interview, worth watching.

Lloyd Davis, the man behind the Tuttle Club, also chatted with Iain as part of a podcast Lloyd recorded on Friday morning; you can hear that segment towards the end of the 15-minute audio.

So Iain’s got a lot going for him at the moment: a great app, a willingness to listen to and engage with his users around the world, those users who want him to succeed with TweetDeck and how it evolves, all of which rides on the wave of increasing interest in Twitter out on the edge of the mainstream as more and more people sign up and contribute to Twitter’s explosive growth.

The precarious nature of Twitter aside – a business started as a side project, with still no discernable business model and which could all stop tomorrow – there are currently well over 500 third-party applications and services created to work in some way with Twitter, adding functionality and utility to the overall user experience.

In other words, it’s a crowded marketplace out there for an application developer, especially with an app that is free (hearing more about TweetDeck Pro and TweetDeck in the enterprise will be interesting: paid-for versions with additional functionality?) and very popular, so you have to have more than just your app to be on that potential success trajectory.

With a developer like Iain Dodsworth, it’s clear that TweetDeck is indeed more than just the app. I guess the main question is how much and how far can just one man go with an app that works on the three primary computing platforms – Windows, Apple and Linux – and where all the indicators are that it’s popularity and demand will only increase?

That question is for the next stage in TweetDeck’s evolution, one that’s bound up with Twitter’s, too. Meanwhile, if you’re a Twitter user, check out TweetDeck today.