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The Real Deal 160: Twitter clients

How to love Twitter even if you hate Use one of these standalone Twitter apps.

The best downloadable applications for accessing Twitter's social network.

Listen now: Download today's podcast

This week: Twitter. Not again! You scream. I can hear you. But yes, Twitter, and better yet, how you can love Twitter while hating, which I do. I find the site too simple, and too greedy for space. I want to see more data and do more on Twitter than allows. That's why I use Twitter apps. This week we're going to talk about the best ones.

PC / Mac apps

Windows PCs and Macs can both run applications written for the man-in-the-middle platform called Adobe Air. For the person who called in and asked what AIR is: it's an intermediate platform, called runtime, that developers write to. Why not just write for Windows, or the Mac? Because if you write for AIR, you app will run on Windows AND the Mac AND Linux, because there are AIR interpreters for all those platforms.

Air products are among the most popular Twitter apps, and give you more control and a prettier view of your Twitter universe than you'll get from Twitter itself.

What these apps do, aside from just displaying Twitter feeds, is give you some combination of these features: a wide dashboard view to show you more than one view of your feed at once; support for multiple accounts and even services other than Twitter; better ways to deal with search; Groups, which is huge; and built-in support for URL shorteners and picture posters.

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 friends' 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 TweetDeck, 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.

I have found the user interface for Seesmic Desktop a little confusing, but I'm warming up to it. It's not quite as space-efficient as Tweetdeck, but it's in its early days of development and getting better in release. It's worth watching. Plus, I'm having coffee with the CEO of Seesmic in about an hour from now so I don't want to be to mean to him. And I really think he's trying to take on Twitter. In fact, he's kind of a fanatic about it. So check out Seesmic Desktop.

Destroy Twitter is the popular newcomer in this group. Aesthetically and functionally, it's fantastic. 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 in-box 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.

I also want to go off on a little tangent here and mention the experimental app OutlookDeck, which gives you a Tweetdeck-like view of your incoming Outlook mail. I know, it sounds crazy, but if you want to monitor your e-mail for particular topics, it's actually useful.

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. Nambu is one of the biggest Mac Twitter apps. It's a very strong multi-column Twitter application (like TweetDeck) but it has a very Mac-like interface and gives you menu options to do a lot of Twitter account maintenance, such as following, un-following, or blocking users.

E-mail from Paulo says it better than me:

I have used TweetDeck, Twhirl, Twitterfox, Tweetie, and Nambu. My favorite is Nambu. It give Twitter a iTunes look and feel. I like the separation of the multiple accounts and being able to have options such as mentions, sent, groups, and permanent search phrases. Growl is a plus as well when in other applications. No need to check it because it will display the tweets. Another big plus is that I can have all this in a window that is approximately 400px by 400px (I use a 12-inch PowerBook and TweetDeck was annoying to scroll between windows). I manage a personal account and a business account for a music group in which I have permanent searches for the artists name to see who's talking about them without using their @twitter name. I also set up a group for all the artists' to see what they are saying to others and being able to RT information through the music groups twitter account. It is in beta though and I did get crashes when setting up groups and searches. Once setup, crashes seemed to stop.. Not sure about how the much memory the programs uses though. Like Tom, Rafe... eh, not so much! =]

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 Beginner's Guide to Twitter, I recommended that new users should spend some time exploring Twitter Search. But like, the Twitter Search site 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 your search, like the most influential Twitter users who write about the search topic, a list of keywords for further exploration, and a list of search hits ranked by popularity, not just recently, 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.


Hi Rafe,

For the Twitter apps episode, I wanted to throw my hat in the ring for Tweetie. I've tried many Twitter apps on my iPhone (including Twittelator, which isn't bad), and Tweetie is by far the best. The UI is very intuative and sleek. I've also just discovered Tweetie for Mac and love it as well.

Thanks! And love the podcast!


San Francisco


Since the Linux sector often gets overlooked, thought I'd give you my experience with Twitter on Linux. I started off using TweetDeck, moved to DestroyTwitter soon after, and finally settled on the native Linux client Gwibber.

Gwibber doesn't have all the features of TweetDeck or DestroyTwitter, but it does have one killer feature: integration with the growl-esque notification system introduced in Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope. Gwibber is based on WebKit, and also supports themes.

Looking forward to the show, and keep up the great work!

-Michael K. (asim0v in the chat room)


Just wanted to correct a statement Rafe made, about transferring a domain in the middle of the registration period.

You don't actually lose any money doing this. Whenever you transfer a domain, you have to buy (at least) 1 year and that's added to the expiry date, not to the date when you transfer it. Same thing with a renewal: additional time is always tacked onto the expiry date.

The only thing you lose by renewing a domain earlier than the expiry date is you are giving your money to the registrar earlier than you need to.

Bruce from Peterborough


Next time: Road Test?