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Battle of the multicolumn Twitter clients

Seesmic Desktop takes on TweetDeck, AlertThingy, Nambu, and Twhirl. How does it compare? Heavy Twitter users would do well to consider these other apps.

There was a time, not long ago, when the power Twitter users were gaga for Twhirl. This Air app gave (and still gives) you quick access to different views of your Twitter network, as well as your FriendFeed stream. But Twhirl didn't last as the go-to client once the Twitterati discovered TweetDeck.

This service has the big advantage of giving users a multicolumn dashboard of everything going on in Twitter that they might care about, all at once on one screen. It also let users set up ad-hoc groups of people to follow, and search terms to track. It's the Bloomberg terminal equivalent for Twitterheads.

TweetDeck is not the only multicolumn Twitter client, however. On Tuesday, Seesmic, which publishes Twhirl, released a preview of its own new multicolumn client, Seesmic Desktop. It's going up against another new client, the Mac-only Nambu, as well as the relatively unknown AlertThingy, which supports more non-Twitter services than any other Twitter client.

Heavy Twitter users would do well to consider these other apps. They might also want to reconsider Twhirl, which, while not strictly multicolumn, is multiwindow, and allows users to set up a dashboard page of their microblog activity on multiple accounts and networks at once.

TweetDeck, a popular multicolumn Twitter client. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

As you can see in the chart after the jump, social network butterflies will likely be best served by AlertThingy, which supports a ridiculous number of services. However, it has a clunky search feature and an inelegant system to shorten links. FriendFeed fans should keep Twhirl on their radar. In this group of products, it has the best support for that network. (Personally, I use Twhirl to keep on top of FriendFeed, althought I don't use it anymore for Twitter access.)

For power Twitter users, the new Seesmic Desktop has promise. It has a better interface for managing saved searches and groups than TweetDeck, and it's the only app in this roundup that lets you use your Webcam to snap pics for upload to Twitter (via Twitpic) directly. The preview release available now has bugs, though, and it also lacks a filter feature, which is an important tool to use alongside search to control the content you see in Twitter columns. I'd wait a while before adopting this app.

Seesmic Desktop: It's no TweetDeck, but give it time. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Nambu is a strong product for Mac users. It does all the important things that TweetDeck does, except access services other than Twitter, and it adds support for displaying content from multiple Twitter accounts at once. It is easy to tweak what you see on-screen, and has the most Mac-like interface of these products.

We can't consign TweetDeck to the dustbin of Twitter apps yet. It is still the the multicolumn Twitter client I recommend for Windows users. It's stable, attractive, easy to use, and flexible. A publicly-availble beta version also supports Facebook; the only other app in this collection to offer that is AlertThingy. I'm keeping TweetDeck on my desktop as my primary Twitter client for the time being. I have an an eye on Seesmic Desktop, though. It shows great promise.

Update: There's a new version of TweetDeck.

Download links:
AlertThingy | Twhirl | TweetDeck | Nambu | Seesmic Desktop

Multicolumn Twitter clients compared