Finding the right Twitter client

Twhirl Twitter client
Twhirl Twitter client

When I first started using Twitter on Sunday 27 January 2008 I very quickly decided that I wanted to use a desktop client rather than log in to the website every time I wanted to make an update or read what other people had written.

I was used to other social media clients, such as Windows Live Messenger. I liked the convenience, and I had the desktop space to accommodate it with two monitors at home and three in the office.

I quickly selected the Twhirl desktop client from Seesmic as my client of choice. It ran using the Adobe AIR framework so was quick and easy to install and for a single Twitter account user it gave me a really simple way to both read and post updates.

Every now and then I’d scan the horizon to see what else was out there but I kept returning to Twhirl. There was a simplicity about it and it was compact.  I could tuck it into a corner of my screen and work around it, see:

Twhirl on the desktop

I also liked the tab-like buttons across the bottom of the user-interface to switch between my main Twitter stream, replies, direct messages, favourites, etc.

What Twhirl wasn’t so hot on though was multiple accounts. While it did support them you either had to switch between one and the other or open two (or more) concurrent windows side-by-side, which made it somewhat less compact.


TweetDeck Desktop for Windows
TweetDeck Desktop for Windows

I tried TweetDeck shortly after it first launched and I have to be honest, at the time I really didn’t like it. A few more versions down the line and I switched to TweetDeck Desktop right about the time that Seesmic stopped supporting Twhirl. It seemed like a good time to make the transition.

Also we’d just started using the new University of St Andrews web team account @stawebteam and I wanted to be able to use one client for multiple accounts, in rather a less clunky way than Twhirl offered.

Over the last couple of years TweetDeck have added more and more features: support for Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, GoogleBuzz and Foursquare. You can now view YouTube videos and TwitPic photos within TweetDeck (rather than being punted out to your browser to view them). They’ve kept up-to-date with Twitter’s API twists and turns: lists, retweet changes, requests-per-hour, scheduling updates, etc.

TweetDeck is also now available on the iPhone and iPad, on Android, and as an extension for Google Chrome.

It’s all very impressive stuff, but the truth is I don’t want more features I just want a better user-interface. I want a user interface that I can customize to the way that suits the way that I work. And TweetDeck just doesn’t offer me that.


My first gripe is navigation. In TweetDeck I get columns. Lots and lots and lots of columns. I have two ways to navigate:

  1. Horizontal scrollbar
  2. A group of blocks in the centre of the window which represent each of the columns.
Navigation options between columns using TweetDeck
Navigation options between columns using TweetDeck

The scrollbar is fiddly. The blocks are even more so. I either need to have a photographic memory to remember what each of my 12 columns are, or I need to slowly hover above each block to reveal the tool-tip to identify each of the columns.


My second gripe is layout and it begins in exactly the same way as my first gripe: In TweetDeck I get columns. Lots and lots and lots of columns. And that’s all. I can’t stack the columns, I can’t vary the width of the columns: two wider columns and two thinner, for example.

While I do get a neat, single-column view—similar to Twhirl—as soon as I maximize TweetDeck it all becomes a bit unmanageable thanks to the poor navigation options (see above).

Multiple accounts

While TweetDeck does allow me to manage multiple accounts in a more integrated way my main gripe is…well, there are a lot of columns (see above) I can’t quickly distinguish the columns from one another. There’s a lot of horizontal scrolling (see above).


That’s when I discovered Sobees Desktop for Windows which offers me:

  • Multi-tabbed interface
  • Multiple layout options
Sobees social media client for Windows
Sobees social media client for Windows

As you can see from the screenshot on the left, Sobees gives me the compact, single-column view that I really like but down the left-hand side I get the tabbed-access to home, replies, direct messages, favourites, etc. that I got with Twhirl.

Then in this layout along the top I’ve got tabs for the various Twitter accounts that I manage.

Having my accounts compartmentalized in such a way really works for me.

And Sobees doesn’t just support Twitter, it will also connect to Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, RSS and (oddly) the New York Times.

I’ve found the RSS feed option to be particularly useful.

Reordering how I organize my columns is simply a matter of drag-and-drop:

Reordering a layout in Sobees
Reordering a layout in Sobees

I used Sobees exclusively for about a month a couple of years ago just to see how it fared against TweetDeck…it was slow. Really slow: to start-up, to update, and every now and then all my data would disappear completely requiring me to ‘bounce’ it (switch it off and switch it back on again).

I keep going back to Sobees every now and again, but it never lasts. I still keep going back to using TweetDeck even though the layout and navigation issues drive me mad. The main reasons: speed and reliability, with extra features coming a close third.

moTweets for Windows Mobile

moTweets for Windows Mobile
moTweets for Windows Mobile

That said, more and more, I’m using moTweets for Windows Mobile / Windows Phone. It handles multiple-accounts effortlessly and has a very simple user interface that I can use with one hand.

Desktop application designers take heed: mobile devices are offering the simplicity and focus that your users appreciate. But maybe that’s the topic of a future post.


For my needs TweetDeck still has the edge, although the user-interface drives me nuts. I really, really wish TweetDeck offered tabs and the ability to stack columns like Sobees does.

That said, I love the simplicity of moTweets for Windows Mobile. It’s so tactile and allows me to switch between views and accounts very quickly, and very simply.  Something that TweetDeck falls short on delivering.

You may have noticed that I haven’t once mentioned Seesmic Desktop. That’s because I tried it. And uninstalled it. Maybe it’s time to give it another whirl. (Not Twhirl, they’ve stopped supporting that.)

12seconds and Phreadz

Great to see Phreadz getting such a good write-up/name-check on the latest 12seconds newsletter:

Phreadz, an amazing site out of London, UK has integrated 12seconds into their video conversation service.  Need a conversation starter?  Import a 12second video directly into Phreadz and let the conversation begin!

Now I’m back home for the foreseeable future I should get myself back into the lands of 12seconds, Phreadz and Seesmic.

Meet @documentally …

When I visited London all those weeks ago — mid-May, although according to The Other Place it was Yesterday — I met a bunch of kindly geeky, social media types in a posh hotel next to the Beeb in central London.

For most of the meet-up I sat between @solobasssteve and @lobeliasabo and cracked on with some Web design bits and pieces on my laptop. I got involved in the conversation once or twice but mostly just listened in while trying to sort out a CSS issue I was struggling with.

Our Man Inside

One of these fine fellows was a photographer/documentary maker called Christian Payne, who goes by the moniker @documentally on various social media sites.

When I got back to @solobasssteve’s in the evening I duly added @documentally to my list of Twitter followees and have been … well, I guess eavesdropping on his public internet conversations and twitterings. And I have to say that I really wish that I’d been less reserved and engaged in a deeper conversation with Christian because his Tweets, his Qik postings and Seesmic natterings are fantastic!


Qik is an online service that enables you (with an appropriate phone, such as the Nokia N95) to stream video directly to the internet. It’s @documentally’s Qik posts that I’ve enjoyed the most. I described them recently as being like a Quentin Tarantino film with all the beauty of the minutiae but without the extreme violence and swearing!

Over the last couple of weeks he’s Qik-ed about taking his dog for a walk, petrol prices, he’s interviewed Tony Benn at Euston Station, chatted with the owner of a pipe shop, been to the O2 Festival and opened a couple of exciting parcels — including one containing a Special Forces watch and, this one above, unpacking an Eye-Fi SD card.

A lot of blogging and video blogging gets criticised — often rightly — for being mundane. Who wants to know what you’ve had for breakfast or that there are 139 cracks on the pavement between your house and the bus stop?!

But Christian’s posts are interesting, humorous, intriguing, enthusiastic and professional. I really look forward to reading in my Twitter stream that there’s another Qik video from Christian, because they sure are better than almost anything that’s on telly right now … the Tour de France aside, of course!