There is no doubt Twitter and Facebook have changed the landscape of communication, both between individuals and between companies and their customers, and the list of ways for interacting with or through both platforms keeps growing day by day.
Well, on every list there is a first item leading the way, and in the crowded space of Twitter clients, there is one king second only to Twitter’s very own web. Today we’ll take a look at TweetDeck, a multi-platform Twitter client built on AIR and also available for the iPhone, which has some very nice Facebook and MySpace features up it’s sleeve.
Installing the software
Installing TweetDeck is pretty straight forward, even if you don’t have Adobe AIR installed. Clicking on the install link will download everything you need directly within the browser. Once everything’s ready, you’ll be prompted to actually install TweetDeck on your system:
Setting accounts is a breeze, be it Twitter, Facebook (with Facebook Connect) or Myspace. Using Twitter OAuth would have been a nice touch, but that doesn’t seem to be that common with any other Twitter client, anyway. TweetDeck also offers the ability to register with their own server with the promise of syncing between different platforms – We’ll cover this feature in more detail later.
The TweetDeck Approach
In TweetDeck every view is a column: DMs, replies, a search, Facebook news feed, and so on. There are no tabs, panes or different sections within the app; you’ve got a single window with as many custom columns as you want.
This may look like a simplistic approach, but it truly is really powerful once you get used to it. However, if you find you never get the hang of it, you can switch between single column and muti-column view with the touch of a button.
Common interaction (replying, retweeting and direct messaging) is offered by hovering over the user’s avatar. Pressing the space bar with a tweet selected shows a shortcuts lightbox, though interestingly these shortcuts only work when the lightbox is active, so you’ll find they aren’t that useful after all.
These are all mostly pretty standard features in most Twitter clients, even some of the really neat stuff like built-in translation. However, being column-centric, the most interesting and differentiating tools apply to the columns themselves. For example, TweetDeck can show what’s popular in a column (and remember this can be a search, a hashtag, a user, etc.) in a tag-cloud fashion:
It is also possible to filter what’s being shown by text, name, source and even time. All of these features and tools can really help you drill down on specific searches and stay on top all the information being presented.
Working with Facebook
TweetDeck’s addition of Facebook support came a couple of months ago for the desktop, followed soon after on the iPhone app. It was a very welcome addition to the already vast array of features to keep information overload centralized and under control.
Facebook columns work very similarly to Twitter columns, and the fact that you can have them side by side under the same roof is just pure joy. You can choose to create columns for the news feed, status updates, wall posts, pictures, videos or make your own groups of people.
Hovering over a user’s picture discloses 4 buttons to like, comment, write on the user’s wall and some more advanced options (like send message, translate, email, etc.):
Note also how easy it is from TweetDeck to post to several places at the same time, be it Facebook and one or more Twitter accounts by just selecting them above the text area.
It goes without saying that TweetDeck supports the same tag-cloud and filtering options that we saw on Twitter columns, which can really help you when dealing with all the stuff being posted on Facebook!
In June 2009 TweetDeck released their iPhone App to much anticipation. Everyone was wondering how they would port the TweetDeck column paradigm to the iPhone. Well, the truth is they did a pretty good job at making room for everything within the confines of the iPhone screen.
But first let’s take a look at the start-up, 6-step wizard, which is really polished and useful for newbies, and also includes the creation of a TweetDeck account for syncing purposes:
Once set up, we’ll be presented with some basic columns: All Twitter friends, mentions and DMs, as well as the news feed for all Facebook friends. Adding and editing columns is really easy:
Swiping left or right moves from column to column; this is true both in the overview mode or when zooming on a particular column. Unfortunately, vertical scrolling only works when zoomed in, though.
If you find the original theme too dark or hard to read in certain circumstances, there is a white one available through the settings menu.
Composing a message works both in landscape and portrait modes and follows the same pattern to post to different account at the same time:
Note the options: a single tap to erase all content, which comes in pretty handy; access to recent hashtags; quick access to friends; url shrinking (with the option to sync with a bit.ly account); take a picture; geotag and change from landscape to portrait mode. This last one is a very interesting one, since I’m finding automatic switching to be very annoying when not standing still, which I find fairly common at home or in the park.
Overall, the application behaves as you would expect when browsing through users and tweets. One thing missing is support to see attached images in a nice, standalone view; instead, we’re taken to a browser.
Syncing (aka. the holy grail of Twitter clients)
When it comes to Twitter clients, there is something all of us are craving for: syncing. We read Twitter on the subway, on the sofa, at work, on the bed, on the park or just strolling around, and not having read status and other configuration synced across devices is a royal pain in the neck.
TweetDeck does say it syncs columns between devices. It doesn’t keep up with where you left in some other device, but it does keep your column configuration in sync, which is really nice indeed. When it works, that is.
Truth is, I’ve tried to sync manually several times, finding an error appeared fairly regularly:
However, syncing does happen automatically every now and then – when it works, it’s excellent:
All that being said, it’s also worth considering that resources on the iPhone are way more scarce than on your desktop system. That means that it is likely to have 10 or 12 columns on the desktop client, while 6 to 8 are the maximum recommended on the iPhone. Choosing which columns to sync is certainly possible, but I think it adds an additional layer of complexity that only real power users are willing to deal with.
First of all, let’s all bear in mind that TweetDeck is beta software, currently running on version 0.31.3. They still have a long way to go and it’s a fantastic app already with and impressive feature set, and you can’t argue with a free price tag.
The fact that is built on AIR is as much a blessing as a curse. On the one hand, it’s great that it is able to run on different platforms with a consistent user experience. This is great if you work with a Windows box but have an iMac at home.
At the same time, AIR just can’t cut it the way Cocoa does. It feels clumsy and doesn’t work like you’d expect. For example, two-finger horizontal scrolling doesn’t work, and once you get past 5 columns, it’ll start to get annoying to move the cursor down to the little scroll bar at the bottom. Typography, buttons… the list goes on and on, at least for a Mac user who is used to pixel perfect graphics and neat transitions. The iPhone app is definitely different than the rest, but it feels more at home than the desktop counterpart.
All in all, Tweetie has my heart for my personal tweeting for the time being, but I’ve found TweetDeck is perfect for power users that need to keep track of business/products accounts, both in Twitter and Facebook, for which you want an overall look of mentions, new followers, DMs, and so on.
However, if the TweetDeck crew manages to polish the interface and sync read status as well as columns, having Twitter and Facebook side by side will definitely be hard to resist.