Wanted: A Better Twitter Client

Well over a year ago, I wrote about just how useful Twitter can be, and over time that’s only increased. I have to admit that until about a month ago, I mostly just used Twitter in the web interface. I did install Digsby as a client, but I basically just used that to notify me when new Twitter messages were showing up. But then I kept hearing about neat things (such as groups) that TweetDeck allowed, and I started playing with that. It took some getting used to, but there were definite advantages. Being able to set up groups/columns/persistent searches and laying it out in a nice format actually made Twitter that much more useful. It became, as I noted in a Tweet sort of a “personal Bloomerg” for me.

But still… Tweetdeck had limitations. While you could edit the colors (useful! white text on black background is awful for eye strain), there were limitations. Then, I noticed that Tweetdeck was dropping a bunch of messages. I’d only noticed because people would tweet something in reference to an earlier tweet… but that earlier tweet wouldn’t be there. In the past few days it’s only gotten worse. I asked for some suggestions for other apps and have now tested out both Seesmic Desktop and Destroy Twitter. Both have some nice features… and others that are quite annoying. People recommended both Tweetie and Nambu… but both are only available on Macs, so I couldn’t test them out.

Not that anyone actually reads this blog, but I thought I’d try to put together a feature list of what would make me happy on the Twitter client front (I’m leaving out the stuff that’s already pretty standard, such as URL shortener support, easy retweets, etc.). If anyone develops a client with these features, please, please, please let me know:

  • Customization! Let me choose colors/fonts/sizes. Tiny white text on a black background? Sorry. Unusable.
  • Let me manage how many columns/groups I want. When you limit what I can do, it just makes me want to look for other apps. Tweetdeck seems to limit you to 10 columns. Not sure about Seesmic. Destroy Twitter has 6 total columns (home/replies/direct messages/groups/search/saved tweets), and only displays three at a time (first three or last three). You can do multiple groups/searches, but you can only see one at a time. That gets annoying. My screen can show more, so let me see more. And making me manually switch between groups or searches? Why? Just show them all.
  • Also, we don’t necessarily need the full column metaphor. Why not set it up as a canvas and let me organize each option as I see fit? Then I can set it up exactly as I want. My full stream can be a full column, but I don’t get many direct messages. So maybe I only want direct messages to be a small box in the corner, and then I can put a lower volume persistent search beneath it. Let me organize how I see everything on an open canvas and I’d be much happier.
  • Make it easy to set up groups — which means setting up multiple ways to manage groups. Tweetdeck gives you a list of everyone you follow. That works well until you have a ton of users you follow. Seesmic only lets you add if you see people in your home timeline. That’s awful. I purposely set up groups so I make sure I can see important messages from people who don’t tweet often, but I don’t want to miss (like my mom or my wife). Destroy Twitter shows you the first 4 (alphabetical) people you follow and then offers a search box. Showing those first four users is useless and if I don’t remember the usernames, the search is useless. Why not set up a combo of all of these? Show the list. Let people add from their stream. And offer search.
  • Notifications: Tweetdeck and Seesmic just tell me I have new messages (and in what buckets) but don’t display the messages themselves. Destroy Twitter and Digsby at least show actual text in the notification… except both just show the latest message (Digsby lets you scroll to the “next” message if you get your mouse over the notification fast enough). I would kind of like to see all the incoming messages displayed briefly. That helps with the whole “ambient information” concept.
  • Facebook integration is definitely nice — props to Tweetdeck and Seesmic for doing that… but why won’t either let me clear out those messages once seen? I can clear out Twitter messages, but not Facebook messages.
  • Server integration. If I run the client on multiple machines, it should know what I’ve read/not read.
  • Better handling of read/unread messages: make it easy to mark stuff as read and clear it out…. and then if I *do* want to go back, make that easy too. Tweetdeck lets me clear out read messages, but if I shut it down and reopen… they’re back. But if I don’t shut it down and reopen, there appears to be no way to get my “cleared” messages back. If I want to see them again, I have to either shut down/reopen or go to the web interface. Maybe just do what Gmail does and have an “archived” box/column that can be opened.
  • Show me all my messages. Not sure if this is an API limitation or what… but if I shut down for the night and open up Tweetdeck in the morning, it only shows me a few hours worth of messages. I’d like to see everything since I last logged in. At the very least, make this a user option… (related to this: Tweetdeck, STOP dropping messages).
  • Memory management. Stop being a memory hog! All of you. :)

I think that’s it for now… though I may have some other thoughts later. What other features would be good?

I should note, by the way, that none of this is to disparage the work done on these apps. They’ve all made Twitter much more useful — so I’m not trying to pull a Louis CK “everything’s great and I’m still pissed off” sorta thing. I’m just finding that in making Twitter much better, they’re also exposing their limitations. All of these apps are in early versions, so I’m hopeful that they’ll all get there eventually. Hopefully this post helps someone get there faster. :)


Scott Horvath  on May 6th, 2009

Mike, this is a great list. Glad you added in the server integration one. That’s a big pet peeve of mine. I also agree that showing items that have appeared since I last logged in (assuming I’ve closed my app and reopened later) should be available.

In addition to that, having a link at the bottom of that tweet list for “show previous 200” or some other limit option would be a quick way to see what I missed. And with server integration it would cut down on the API calls for those since they could simply be in some XML format on the server. I think about 5 days archive would be enough. Past that and I’ll just search.

I think Seesmic does this, but I’d like to see PIP (picture in picture) for @replies. It’s a minor thing but it’s helpful.

One thing I also would like to see added is sorting. Let me sort my tweets by sender.

Give me an option for showing tweets only contain links.

If a “canvas” approach is provided, and more space is allowed to be given to “All friends” list or @replies, then let me have the option of embedding previews of TwitPic images to the side of each tweet and video stills.

One other nice to have, but not needed, would be a geo-located column. Every tweet is geo-coded. Why not provide an option to tap into that data as a search?

There’s just some additional ideas. Hope something comes of all this.

muzik 4 machines  on May 6th, 2009

agreed totally, especially the memory hog thing
facebook is really nice to have integrated, i’ll add myspace too, and the ability to autopost from an rss feed(podcast) to notify(i’m using friendfeed for that only)

Blaise Alleyne  on May 6th, 2009

To be honest, I’ve been using Google Reader since November (when SMS updates were cancelled in Canada) to subscribe to some people’s updates and to searches.

It’s pretty awkward, but there aren’t many great free software / GNU/Linux clients. I’ve been using something called Gwibber, which has awesome support for pulling in feeds from Twitter, Identi.ca, Flickr, Facebook, you name it (even a standard RSS feed), and it has built in Ping.fm support. But the interface and features list are still pretty basic.

I’ve been hoping to get some time to jump into the code and work in support for groups and a few other things I’d like to see… but that won’t help much with finding a Windows client with any of these things. Great suggestions though!

mikeho  on May 7th, 2009

I think you basically want a Bloglines with custom themes and a way to update statuses… just need an RSS reader that updates more frequently. :P

Mike Masnick  on May 7th, 2009

Hmm…. not really a Bloglines. The way I interact with RSS and Twitter is actually quite different. RSS is more about going in and seeing what’s going on. Twitter is more about ambient information.

francisco lopes  on August 23rd, 2009

so, what client did you end up with? your list is pretty much what i’m looking for, except that i’d love some keyboard shortcuts too. i’m currently with tweetdeck, but sometimes i get pissed about their MARK AS READ button, which is way too small for my taste.

Mike Masnick  on August 23rd, 2009

Still with Tweetdeck (which added server syncing, which is useful). Still wish some of the other features were enabled as well.

francisco lopes  on August 23rd, 2009

yup, seems to be best so far. i find server sync pretty useful too, still i wish it would also sync read/unread entries. :(

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