Seesmic Desktop shakes up the Twitter-scape

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Last night saw the launch of a new Adobe Air-based Twitter client, Seesmic Desktop. Seesmic are the folks who purchased the popular Twhirl client last year. It's pretty clear that Seesmic Desktop is gunning for TweetDeck, the Twitter client that's very popular with Twitter power users. From the sound of things, the current plan for Seesmic is to maintain both Twhirl and the new client.

I've only spent an hour or so playing around with Preview Release of Seesmic Desktop, so rather than try any kind of in-depth review I'll just give an overview of some of the major features.

First, Seesmic Desktop supports multiple "panes" inside the client that can be used to organize incoming and outgoing tweets. A navigation column on the left side of the client offers the usual selections ("Home," "@Replies," "Private," "Sent") as well as a list of accounts, user lists and searches. Clicking any one of these bring the applicable tweets into the "main" pane, and from there you can "tear off" that filtered list into a separate pane. You can have an unlimited number of these torn off panes, and if the client window isn't wide enough to display them all, a horizontal scroll bar will appear to let you "scrub" back and forth between them while always keeping the default pane visible.

Note I said accounts, plural. Seesmic Desktop supports multiple Twitter accounts (support for other services such as FriendFeed and Facebook are planned but not yet implemented). You can quickly pick which account to post under, and you can either merge incoming tweets or filter them into separate panes, one for each account.

Userlists are a way to filter the people you follow into groups. Mousing over a tweeter's icon and choosing the "gear" lets you add that user to a list via a pop-up menu. That's nice and all, but they really need to give us a way to just type in Twitter usernames rather than searching for a tweet from that user. Also, be wary of clicking the "Remove" button on a list's pane; it'll delete your painstakingly created list! Use the "Close" button instead. (This was definitely user-error on my part, but an "Are you sure?" prompt would be welcome.)

At the bottom left of the client is a search box. Enter a term here and a new pane will open up with the results, plus the search will show up in the left nav. As long as you don't remove that pane, the search will be updated whenever the client polls Twitter. Pretty handy for terms you follow regularly, or if some big event is ongoing and you want to monitor it.

At the top of the client window is an input box for your updates. Entering a shortened URL feels a little cumbersome. First you click "Add a URL" which opens an input box. Paste the URL to be shortened into this box, choose a short URL service (http://bit.ly, http://digg.com and http://is.gd are offered for now, with more to come) and click OK to get the short URL inserted into your update. This is the same way that Twhirl works but is a bit more clicky than TweetDeck's "dedicated URL box". It'd be nice if we could tailor the list of services offered, or at least pick a default. Maybe we'll get that functionality by launch. For now, bit.ly is the default.

One of the handiest features of Seesmic Desktop is the "Share an Image" functionality. Click it, a window pops open. You can now drag an image to that window and click "OK" in order to upload it to TwitPic and paste the link to it in the update box (a more conventional "open" dialog box is also available). There's also a "Web Cam" button that supports capturing an image directly from a web cam. Pretty neat.

So, am I tossing TweetDeck and moving over to Seesmic? Not quite yet. I do find it aesthetically more pleasing than TweetDeck, but it needs a little more polish. Managing user lists needs some work, and the "in reply to" part of a tweet's meta-data isn't shown (that's a big problem for me). Nor can I find a way to start following someone from inside Seesmic (short of using the "follow username" command). TweetDeck lets me mark a particular tweet as seen (after which I can "Hide Seen Tweets"), which a straw-poll tells me most people don't use, but I do. Finally, I can't hide the "Post an Update" box like I can in TweetDeck. (I'm stingy with screen real estate.) None of these complaints alone are deal breakers (though the lack of "in reply to" comes close) but they add up.

All that said, given that this is a preview release, my list of drawbacks is pretty short. I'll definitely be watching Seesmic Desktop; if nothing else, it's good to see TweetDeck get some competition. If you'd like to give it a try, head to http://desktop.seesmic.com/ and fill out the "Join Team Seesmic" form to get a copy to try out.

Seesmic Desktop with several 'torn off' panes showing. I have 'live searches' for ITWorld and 'seesmic' open, and 'Tech People' is a Userlist. Note the horizontal scroll bar beneath all but the default pane.

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