8 free Twitter clients for better tweeting

Get a lot more functionality out of Twitter with one of these tools.

Seesmic Desktop 0.5.1

I first heard about Seesmic from a former TwitterDeck user, who said that this desktop app (still in beta) could be the Next Big Thing for people who need to track a lot of different Twitter threads.

What does it do? Seesmic is indeed a bit like TwitterDeck on steroids. Like TwitterDeck, it organizes your Twitter and Facebook feeds into columns. You can create new columns by starting a search or by following a single user or group of users. Or, if you want, you can just follow your Facebook and Twitter feeds in a single column (and it can handle more than one Twitter account).

In fact, rather than automatically putting your Facebook and Twitter feeds in two separate columns, it starts with a Home column in which both are combined. If that bothers you (it bothered me because it results in duplicate messages from people who send to both feeds) you can either choose to look at only one of the two feeds (by clicking on a menu to the left of the columns) or break one of them off into a separate column. You can easily send a status message to Twitter, Facebook or both, and Seesmic lets you add an image to your tweets.

What's cool about it? Seesmic is incredibly flexible; you can make it do almost anything you want it to -- and you can do it on a moment's notice. Say you've searched on a term and you're now curious about one of the tweeters -- just click on the name and you immediately have a new column with all of that person's recent tweets. If you're tired of that search, an icon at the top of the column will close it up or delete it.

Seesmic works on a system of "fixed" and "detached" columns. You can have a single fixed column that shows all your Twitter and Facebook accounts; you can then generate a series of detached columns that follow specific accounts (for example, just your Facebook account), specific users or specific searches. You can have nothing but detached columns -- or you can have a single fixed column.

If a column shows a specific Twitter account, a series of icons on the bottom let you filter it further into replies, direct messages (private tweets directed to you), etc. In any column, you can easily reply or retweet a message by simply clicking on one of the icons that are "hidden" within the user's picture (very much like TweetDeck).

Seesmic is one of the most Facebook-friendly Twitter clients I've come across. Each of your friends' status updates from your Facebook account has an icon that, when clicked, shows you the details of the message and lets you comment on it right from Seesmic.

And if you're not near your own computer, you can access Seesmic's Web-based interface, which is a simplified version of its desktop application. An iPhone version is in the works.

What needs to be fixed? Although not nearly as complicated as PeopleBrowsr (and much nicer to look at), Seesmic is one of those applications that you have to spend some time with before you've achieved a reasonable comfort level. The concept of fixed and detached columns takes a while to get used to, and one gets the feeling that there are all sorts of things you could do with it -- if you understood how. Like many other third-party Twitter applications, Seesmic offers video tutorials, user guides, and solutions to known issues and answers to common questions for those willing to put in the time.

Final verdict: Seesmic is a fabulous way to handle Twitter if you need to watch different feeds at different times, and if you like tweaking your applications to do exactly what you want them to. It's especially handy for Facebook users who don't want to bother to actually visit Facebook.

TweetDeck v.0.30.0

Judging from the number of times I see TweetDeck mentioned as the source of various tweets, it must be a popular application. And I can understand why; this nicely organized desktop app allows you to simultaneously and easily follow different groups (including your Facebook friends), searches and trends.

What does it do? TweetDeck, which was still in beta when this was written, organizes your Twitter, Facebook and/or MySpace feeds into columns. Icons on top of the interface let you compose an update; create new columns for Twitter, Facebook and MySpace feeds; create a new column out of a search; and launch a Web site called the TweetDeck Directory, which describes itself as "a TV Guide for Twitter channels."

Besides Macs and Windows PCs, TweetDeck works with Linux-based computers, and an iPhone version is available.

What's cool about it? TweetDeck makes it extremely simple to choose a topic or keyword to follow -- just click on the Search icon and type in a word or phrase, and a new column appears showing all the public tweets that use that word or phrase. That column will stay as part of your TweetDeck interface until you decide to delete it.

There are a number of other ways you can individualize your TweetDeck experience -- and it's very easy to figure out how to do it. You can create groups of specific accounts that you are following by choosing from a checklist of all your followed accounts. You can follow all mentions of your own tweets. A single click lets you jump in and out of "single column view," so that you can follow just one column for a while without having to eliminate the others.

Want more? You can simultaneously send a message to your Twitter, Facebook and MySpace accounts, shorten URLs (by, among other ways, linking to your Bit.ly account -- if you have one -- so you can track your clicks), send Twitpics (a service that lets you share images on Twitter) and even translate your tweet into a number of languages, including Arabic, Latvian, Filipino and Hebrew.

TweetDeck recently added the ability to read Facebook Wall posts and, like Seesmic, to comment on and "like" Facebook status messages directly from the app. And while TweetDeck is a desktop application, if you register, you can sync and back up your columns across different machines.

But the best thing about TweetDeck is its ease of use. It has, up till now, managed to incorporate all these features into an interface that is not overwhelming or too busy.

What needs to be fixed? Very little, actually. There are a few glitches in the latest upgrade -- for example, I have to rebuild all my feeds each time I start it (a bug I hope is fixed soon). And it will be interesting to see if TweetDeck can keep its ease of use as it continues to add more features to keep up with the competition.

Final verdict: This is still one of the best Twitter clients out there, offering a nice balance of features and simplicity.

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Barbara Krasnoff

Computerworld (US)
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