Twitter tools on the rise

Chafing from Twitter's user interface? A veritable galaxy of tools can help better manage your tweets.

As we pointed out in a recent blog entry, using Twitter from the Twitter Web site itself is quite easy. But Twitter power-users soon chafe at this simplicity — there are loads more features that could be added to make this form of communication even easier. Fortunately, Twitter publishes the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for the service, which allows third-party developers to write applications that feed data to and extract data from Twitter.

At the very least, using one of these clients will eliminate the need to keep a browser window open to keep track of your Twitter feeds. Plus, many of these clients download Tweets automatically, so you don't even have to hit the refresh button on the browser.

While the number of ways that users interact with Twitter are many and varied, here are a few of the most popular clients:

TweetDeck seems to be one of the most popular third-party tools for following Twitter. It is a free, downloadable application, based on Adobe's AIR platform, that can work on Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh and even, with some twiddling, Linux systems. TweetDeck offers the ability to view messages, replies and direct messages all on a single screen. It has a Web address-shortening service (to overlay a shorter address on top of those humongous URLs you wish to share). It's a sleek interface, though it is a bit of a memory hog, at least in its beta form — our copy takes up more than 100 megabytes in memory.

Twhirl is another AIR-based client, one that allows you to watch feeds from multiple social networks, including Twitter,, private instantiations of, and FriendFeed. Each feed gets its own box, which you can expand or minimize. It also offers pop-alerts for new updates. The software also makes retweeting (or posting someone else's Tweet verbatim) pretty easy.

Seesmic Desktop is yet another Adobe AIR-based client (the popularity of Twitter has really helped Adobe's efforts of building an AIR user base). With this client, you can pull in feeds from multiple accounts under one view. Offered by the same company that built Twhirl, this client also allows you to separate the peers you follow into different interest groups. You can have multiple feed columns running on the client and move them around in the way that makes most sense. This software still in the prerelease stage, but you can get a free copy, for either Apple Macintosh or Microsoft Windows, if you provide an e-mail address.

Nambu offers a free native Macintosh client for Twitter (as well as for another social-networking services). It features the brushed-metal look-and-feel of Apple software, comes with extras such as the ability to see the full target Web address of a shortened URL, and the ability to separate followers into groups. You can also save a list of persistent searches and use the live keyword filter if you only want to see Tweets with selected keywords.

Splittweet is actually a Web page interface for managing multiple accounts. The service could also be good for getting Twitter updates more quickly: The Twitter service itself limits the number of calls an external desktop client can make each hour to get the latest messages (to about 70 an hour when the traffic load is not stressing the system). The Splittweet service has no quota, Splittweet's operators claim.

HootSuite is another Web interface, though one specifically for posting updates, rather than viewing the updates of others. You can post a single message to multiple accounts. You can stage Tweets to be posted at a particular time. The site also offers a browser toolbar icon for most browsers that can send to your Twitter account the link to the current page on the browser. It can also reveal how many times a Tweet has been ReTweeted.

Digsby moves the Twitter into a familiar realm of Instant Messaging (IM). This client looks very much like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), or similar IM clients. Users can get their Twitter feeds along side those from their AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk and Jabber accounts, as well as from other social-networking sites such as Facebook.

Twittering can also be done on-the-go, through your mobile phone. Twitter itself offers the ability to post messages from your cellular phone, via the Short Messaging Service (SMS). Keep in mind that the normal cell phone fees for messaging apply. In addition to this basic service, a number of Twitter clients are also available for smart phones, and they possess most of the features offered by desktop clients. For the iPhone, there is PocketTweets and Twitterific. BlackBerry users should check out TwitterBerry, as well as the TinyTwitter client, which can work on BlackBerry or any other Java-enabled phone.

Please keep in mind that, because of Twitter's open API, many other Web 2.0 styled social-networking tools can either display Twitter updates and/or feed to Twitter updates. Microblogging sites that feature crossposting include Identica, FriendFinder and Google offers a Twitter gadget that can be added onto a user's customized Google search page. Twitter offers an application that allows Facebook users to post their Twitter updates on their Facebook pages. MySpace has a similar client for its own site. The Web address shortening service Bit.Ly offers the option of posting a newly shortened address directly to Twitter.

And believe it or not, there are even more clients and extenders for Twitter. For a full list, go to the Twitter App page.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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