8 free Twitter clients for better tweeting

What needs to be fixed? Remember when people used to make jokes about amateur publishers who had just discovered desktop publishing software? Their documents would be so full of different typefaces, colors, sizes, what have you -- you know, the typical ransom-note style -- that you didn't know where to look first. That's PeopleBrowsr. Even at its simplest -- the Lite version -- the interface is pretty busy; when you get up to the Advanced mode, the crowd of colors and icons makes it difficult to concentrate on the tweets.

PeopleBrowsr tries to make things easy for you at the outset; when you first sign in, it asks you to mark off your various social networks and then guesses what topics you might be interested in. And yes, each icon has a rollover explanation. But all the noise makes it difficult to concentrate on what you're actually working on.

Final verdict: PeopleBrowsr offers a vast number of features (as I type this, I keep finding more) for those who are serious about their Twitter use. Many of these features are interesting and can be very useful for marketing workers and others who use Twitter for professional purposes. Its only drawback is that there's so much going on that it's difficult not to be overwhelmed.

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.

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.

This story, "8 free Twitter clients for better tweeting" was originally published by Computerworld.

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