8 free Twitter clients for better tweeting

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

TweetGrid

TweetGrid is a very simple Web-based grid that lets you watch a number of feeds simultaneously. As the site's FAQ says, TweetGrid was built to be a "drive-by" service, where you can go, do a search or find a trend, and then leave -- anonymously.

What does it do? TweetGrid gives you a lot of flexibility in how you can view your various Twitter feeds. You start by creating a grid from a set of choices: one row of two columns, two rows of three columns, or even (if you want to really confuse yourself) three rows of three columns. (That's your maximum; TweetGrid supports up to nine searches at a time.) In each box, you specify your search terms and it immediately pulls in the feed.

Besides the searches, you can also mark a box in a column to follow your friends or your direct messages.

What's cool about it? This is a quick and easy way to follow whatever trends or searches you need to. TweetGrid doesn't demand anything from its users -- you don't have to register with TweetGrid or even with Twitter. Just pop over to the site and specify your grid and your searches. You can even save your searches by simply bookmarking them -- nothing could be easier.

If somebody includes an image in their tweet, you can see it alongside the text. Click on the "Trending Topics" link, and you immediately have a 3 x 3 grid showing nine of the top Twitter trends. And if you're only interested in images, you could try the TwitPicGrid, a 6 x 3 grid showing nothing but images that people are uploading into Twitter.

What needs to be fixed? Let's face it, TweetGrid isn't the slickest-looking application around -- the interface is crowded and a bit difficult to read, even if you're using a simple 1 x 2 grid.

And some of the features are a little awkward to use; for example, if you want to create a group, you have to type the word group in the search box, followed by a list of the names you want in the group. Finally, if you're an Internet Explorer 6 user, either upgrade or forget it -- TweetGrid isn't supported by that version of IE.

Final verdict: This is a good place for somebody who wants to taste Twitter, or who needs to do a quick search for work but doesn't want to actually join the service.

TwitScoop

TwitScoop is where you go when you want to see what everybody else is talking about -- it keeps a constant eye on the Twitter zeitgeist and keeps you appraised of what the top topics are through a dynamic, constantly shifting map.

What does it do? You start by giving it access to your Twitter account. My first impression was that it's a glorified version of Twitter's page -- a straightforward friend feed on the left side of the page updates every minute or so. But it's what's on the right side that's important: a constantly shifting text cloud of what Twitizens are talking about.

What's cool about it? Curious about what a trend's about? Hover your cursor over one of the floating phrases in the text map, and you get a pop-up with the last few tweets that use that phrase. Want to follow the trend? Click on it and you're now following it in the feed on the left. Want to follow more than one trend? Click on the others, and you now have tabbed pages on the left, each following a different trend.

Or just sit and watch the text cloud change -- words grow and shrink in size, depending on their popularity in the Twitterverse. One word can dominate the field for hours (for example, when Twitter went down on the morning of August 6, the words hacked and hacker were the big winners until midafternoon). Others can appear, grow and then disappear in a matter of moments (usually indicating spam). For wandering Twitizens, an iPhone version is available.

What needs to be fixed? Not much, as long as you take TwitScoop for what it is -- a view of the moment's Twitter trends.

Final verdict: TwitScoop is a great place to catch trends and news. If that's why you're on Twitter, this is where you need to be.

Twitterfall

Twitterfall was my first Twitter client, and so I have a fond feeling about it. It is a good "first" to have -- it gives you a real sense of how Twitter works and lets you read all those tweets as they hit the ether. It's also an excellent way to monitor current Twitter trends.

What does it do? The aptly named Twitterfall Web site drops each tweet from the top of the screen; as the next tweet comes, it pushes the one before it down. All this gives you the impression of a continuing drip, drip, drip of people sending out their tweets.

Twitterfall's main purpose is to help you keep track of trends; the latest ones are listed on the right side of the screen, and you can check as many you want to watch (or all of them, if you're a glutton for punishment). You can also create your own search and/or include the Twitter accounts you are personally following. The tweets can be color-coded so that you can easily find your personal tweets among the others; for example, you can make the trends gray, your personal search brown, and your followed accounts green.

A Settings box on the right side of the window lets you change the speed, type of animation, number of tweets and other features. A version is available for the iPhone.

What's cool about it? Watching each tweet drop from the heavens and make its way down to the bottom is almost hypnotic.

What needs to be fixed? In the end, while Twitterfall is cool, it's really is more of a stunt than a practical way to follow your tweets. Even with the color coding, mixing the tweets from different sources/searches isn't really a practical way to view them.

Final verdict: Twitterfall is a fun Web app and worth playing with, especially if you want to watch today's hot topics flash before your eyes, but if you use Twitter as a more practical social networking tool, this isn't for you.

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Barbara Krasnoff

Computerworld (US)
Topics: twitter, social networking
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