Review of Twitter Client Managers for PCs

29th May 2009

The second in our series of Twitter reviews focuses on the client managers used to administer Twitter account(s).  Managing multiple accounts and tracking incoming tweets in real time are important features which Twitter currently does not support. As a result, many external client managers have been created to cope with these demands. In this article a selection of popular client managers has been examined to determine which is the most useful and easy to use.

The Twitter client managers reviewed in the article include:

  • TweetDeck
  • Twhirl
  • Hootsuite
  • TwitterFox
  • DestroyTwitter
  • Twittm
  • Twitteron

Each application was assessed against the following criteria and marked out of 5; the higher the score, the more useful and usable the client manager is considered to be. When considering the scores we assessed each application against the following functionality:

  • Managing multiple accounts
  • Interacting with tweets: reply/retweet/favourite/follow etc.
  • Writing and publishing tweets, including adding links and images
  • Managing tweets: groups/replies/direct messages/favourites
  • Customisation
  • Additional features

TweetDeck

 

Overview

TweetDeck is a well known and popular client manager which uses Adobe AIR. This means that it can run on any operating system that supports AIR (Mac, Windows, and Linux). It’s independent of your internet browser, freeing it up for other tasks. As with many client managers reviewed in this article, TweetDeck provides users with real time updates on those they are following, removing the need to check the Twitter website multiple times a day.
TweetDeck has a lot more to offer than just regular updates. You can effectively do everything else that you would do on Twitter plus more. You can reply to tweets, retweet, add them to your favourites, and translate them to other languages to name but a few options. You can also organise those you are following into groups, monitor popular topics that are being discussed on the Twitterverse and review profiles. In the latest release you can now update your Facebook status without leaving TweetDeck.
Currently users can customise the colours of their deck; however there are currently no preset themes to choose from. This makes customisation a little trickier, involving more trial and error.

Issues

Unfortunately TweetDeck does not synch with versions on other computers meaning that all data such as read tweets are lost. It also means that any groups created on one computer have to be set up again on each additional version used elsewhere. This is frustrating and time consuming to anyone who uses it at home and the office. In addition, regular maintenance of your groups is required every time you follow new profiles to ensure this feature remains effective. To make matters worse, when you create a group, TweetDeck lists every profile, including those you no longer follow. This is another time consuming feature which makes it more difficult to filter out profiles selected for a group.
From a usability standpoint, a lot of the features are hidden beneath ambiguous icons. The only way to find out what an icon does is to hover over it and read the corresponding description. Sometimes the descriptions do not provide enough clarification and the only way to understand it is to select the tool and see what happens. Even as a regular user of TweetDeck, it’s easy to forget what icons used infrequently do. This forces the user to remember and recall information instead of being intuitive.
Finally, those managing multiple accounts will not be able to monitor them simultaneously using TweetDeck. This feature might not be important to everyone but it is important to note, particularly for companies with a presence on Twitter.

Verdict

A powerful client manager packed with more features than you could ever need.

Rating: 3.5/5 – Not intuitive to use at first. This client manager requires a definite learning curve to get the most out of it.

Twhirl

 

Overview

Twhirl also uses Adobe AIR meaning that it can also run on most operating systems. The main feature that differentiates it from TweetDeck is that it can manage multiple accounts at the same time. This gives it a huge advantage to those who actively update several accounts, perhaps professionally and personally. Conveniently it automatically logs you into each account when you open Twhirl and has the option to add accounts from not just Twitter, but also Identi.ca, Laconi.ca, FriendFeed and Seesmic.
When it comes to managing your Twitter feed, you can do everything you would expect on a client manager such as, reply, retweet, favourite, direct message as well as archive tweets and review your friends and followers. There are also options to add images and shorten links to your own tweets.
Although you can trim TweetDeck down to one column when required, Twhirl is presented in a compact size automatically. The more accounts you add the wider it is likely to become. Unlike TweetDeck, you have much more control over customising the look and feel of each account with suggested themes. You can also change the font of each account. This is particularly useful in identifying tweets when they arrive from different accounts and pop up in the corner of the screen.

Issues

Twhirl uses an unconventional method for identifying new and unread tweets. In this situation a star appears in the right corner of a tweet. Many other Twitter clients (including Twitter) use the star symbol to mark a tweet as a favourite. This could potentially cause confusion with users who misunderstand its meaning in this situation. As with TweetDeck, Twhirl relies heavily on icons to communicate the functions of every feature. If you are unsure you can hover over the icon to get a short description. However this can be frustrating to users who may frequently forget what some icons do and are required to ‘check’ each time.
Although Twhirl provides good levels of customisation, it is not immediately obvious how to access the section which does this. Users must know that clicking the Twhirl logo in the top corner opens the login manager which has a ‘Colors’ tab. Users might expect such tools to be provided in the ‘Configuration’ icon which is situated in the top corner. Indeed the configuration section has a similar tab called ‘Visual’ where you can change the font. Providing visual customisation in two separate places is quite confusing and users could overlook sections, assuming that it is not provided.

Verdict

A great client for managing multiple accounts.

Rating: 4/5 – Provides all the features you could need with a client manager but some of them are hidden behind unintuitive icons.

Hootsuite

Overview

Hootsuite differs from TweetDeck and Twhirl because it is browser based. This means that it must remain open within a browser to manage an account. Similar to Twhirl, it is designed predominantly for managing multiple accounts and those accounts which are updated by more than one person. Hootsuite turns its browser based interface into a positive feature by making it easier to tweet links while browsing. By adding the Hootsuite ‘Hootlet’ to the bookmarks tab in your browser, when you are browsing the net and see something worth tweeting about you simply click on the Hootlet and it opens a new box with the link already shortened and posted into a new tweet. It also shrinks the links using its own Ow.ly tool. This provides users with additional benefits such as analytics of user clicks.

 

As well as making it easier to tweet links, it’s also possible to organise and specify when your tweets are sent. Scheduling tweets makes it easy to have a tweet sent on a specific date, perhaps when you will not have access to the internet. In additional, sending out the same tweet to multiple accounts is made easy by selecting which accounts to tweet from; clear feedback is provided in the form of a green tick over the account avatar to signify which accounts have been selected.
Although it is not possible to customise the look and feel of the Hootsuite dashboard, there are a variety of tabs within each account which make it possible to review replies, direct messages and importantly, sent messages – something which Twhirl does not do.

Issues

The biggest drawback of Hootsuite is that it cannot update tweets in real time without refreshing the browser each time. This is where Adobe AIR applications have the advantage as they provide unobtrusive ways of keeping users up to date. This is often an essential feature for those using Twitter as it is a much more immediate form of blogging. If you cannot respond or reply to a tweet quickly then you can often miss important opportunities. This is particularly useful to commercial accounts which may seek to obtain ‘conversations’ with their customers.
In addition, users are required to register with Hootsuite before they can begin using it. This is the only client manager reviewed which required this extra step. Normally if a user is registered with Twitter, no other details are required. This unnecessary extra step could be off-putting to users and prevent them from being able to use Hootsuite immediately.

Verdict

Easy to use with some unique features, this client manager works better for commercial accounts than personal accounts.

Rating: 3/5 – A very user friendly application which is effective at managing commercial accounts, but not ideal if you wish to monitor tweets in real time throughout the day.

TwitterFox

Overview

TwitterFox is an open source extension for Twitter available only on Firefox. A more basic Twitter add-on has been created by CloudberryLab for the new Internet Explorer 8 browser called Cloudberry Twitter. Its only purpose is to allow users to tweet links using its shortcut button. The main function of TwitterFox is to provide notifications automatically throughout the day. A small icon sits in the bottom right corner of the browser and updates pop-up at specified intervals. These intervals are set by the user who can choose to have them every 3, 5, 10, and up to 30 minutes apart. It is also possible to override this time delay and update tweets immediately by right clicking the icon and selecting ‘Update tweets now’.
It is possible to write, reply, retweet and save tweets as favourites. It is also possible to monitor replies and direct messages within different tabs. In addition, it keeps track of all unread tweets by providing the number of new tweets next to the icon in the system tray. This is useful for users who are away from their screen for a period of time or too busy to check their updates regularly.
As TwitterFox is a Firefox add-on, it is able to sync with other computers that are using the same extension. This is a useful benefit for users who move between the office and home and is currently something which other client managers such as TweetDeck do not do. It ensures that users can keep track of all new tweets since the last time they were on a computer.

Issues

Although it is possible to switch between different accounts quickly, it is not possible to run more than one account at a time. There is also no link shortening or image tools to help users quickly tweet links. This forces users to open another application to shorten a link or insert an image which is time consuming and frustrating. 
Using the right click function on the mouse cuts down the number of icons or links required within the interface, keeping it clean and tidy. However, some users may not realise immediately that extra functions are hidden within the right-click function. Ideally this should be communicated to users to make it easy for them to access every feature.
Marking a tweet as a favourite is done simply by toggling the star icon which appears when a user hovers over a tweet. However, it is not possible to view all favourites. It would be particularly useful if a favourites tab was provided alongside the messages tab as this would save users from visiting Twitter or another client manager. Limitations such as this may persuade users to switch to another client manager.

Verdict

A basic but simple application that provides discreet updates. The synchronisation between browsers on different computers is also very useful.

Rating: 2.5/5 - This light and unobtrusive client manager is easy to use but lacks some basic functionality.

Destroy Twitter

 

Overview

Another client manager using Adobe AIR, Destroy Twitter claims to use a minimal amount of computer memory compared to other AIR-based competitors such as TweetDeck. It does many of the same things that other client managers do, often using alternative design methods. Instead of adopting a read/unread system for incoming tweets, it provides an ‘Away’ button which you can toggle whenever you leave your computer. This effectively pauses the feed until you return to avoid missing any new messages. However it does rely on you remembering to set the ‘Away’ function before leaving your desk!

It is possible to interact with tweets as they pop-up on screen. Where other client managers only allow you to open the client feed or click on links, DestroyTwitter lets users save, reply and retweet a tweet within the pop-up. When creating tweets, tools to add links and images are provided. It is also possible to set the default program for each tool out of a selection giving users more customisation power. In addition, there are a number of other customisation settings including the number API calls made to Twitter which prevents users from going over their limit. In terms of customising the look of DestroyTwitter, there are a limited number of themes to currently choose from. Hopefully in the future this list will grow.
A couple of nice features DestroyTwitter currently have are their automatic follower list when constructing a new tweet. If you are looking to add someone’s Twitter name, (which is not always easy to remember) a dialogue box appears when you type in the ‘@’ symbol. This function works in a similar way to Facebook’s tagging system and will therefore be familiar to many users. It also saves your last keyword search and tracks new tweets in real time alongside those from friends.
Most importantly, DestroyTwitter does not use icons heavily as links. Apart from the Twitter composer icon, every other link uses a text label. Each label is straightforward and accurately and succinctly describes its function. It manages to use text labels without creating a cluttered layout.

Issues

Currently it is not possible to manage multiple accounts using DestroyTwitter, giving Twhirl the advantage for users requiring this feature. It is also not obvious how to log out of one account and switch to another. It appears that the only way to do this is by closing the programme and reopening it to reach the login page. It would be useful to provide a log-out link somewhere within the interface as well as a drop down menu of login details to make it easier to switch between accounts.

The scroll bar on the right side of each section does not behave as expected. A scroll bar is present even when no content is available. Normally if a page has little content, the scroll bar disappears, suggesting there is nothing further down the page. However, DestroyTwitter does not follow this rule and places a scroll bar on each section regardless. This is misleading and frustrating to users who may spend time trying to select the scroll bar when it is inactive.
Although it is possible to create groups in DestroyTwitter, you can only view one group at a time. This means that you have to switch between groups to monitor them all which in a way defeats the purpose of having this feature. As a result, this is one area where TweetDeck has a slight advantage.

Verdict

An intuitive and simple client manager with lots of features. Users will discover useful and time saving tools within DestroyTwitter the more they use it.

Rating: 4/5 – Inability to manage multiple accounts or effectively manage groups are the only things that let DestroyTwitter down, otherwise it is a strong contender to TweetDeck and Twhirl. Don’t let the misleading name put you off!

Twittm

 

Overview:

Although Twittm uses Adobe AIR, it functions in a different way to its counterparts. TweetDeck and Twhirl focus on managing new friends and publishing tweets, whereas Twittm focuses on following trends. Although you can tweet from Twittm there are no tools to add short links or images. It is only possible to reply and retweet from Twittm.
The plus and minus icons allow you to add keywords to track, similar to the Twitter search applications reviewed in the previous article . Once you have added a number of keywords to track you can switch between them and your own twitter feed using the links in the right hand column.

Issues:

Although Twittm updates tweets on a regular basis, there is no notification system and no way of identifying unread tweets. This makes it difficult to manage incoming tweets and as a result, some may be missed. Although you can tweet, reply, retweet and track keywords, there is very little else you can do. You cannot create groups like TweetDeck or manage multiple accounts like Twhirl.  It’s also not immediately obvious what you can do with a friend’s tweet as the options only appear at the bottom of the feed once it has been selected. This call to action is not clear as the cursor does not change when you hover over it to indicate that it can be selected.
Additionally, the purpose of the plus, minus and ‘T’ icons are not immediately obvious and no pop-up description is provided to help. This forces the user to use trial and error to understand what each icon does.
Another minor issue is the absence of a time stamp on each tweet. This makes it difficult to know how old the last tweet was or gain an understanding on how frequently Twittm updates the feed and there is no control over these settings for users to customise.

Verdict

A very basic client manager which does not offer much over its competitors. It also does not provide some of the useful and slick looking features of other Adobe AIR clients. As Twittm is still in the early beta testing phase it may be worth checking out again in the future when more features will hopefully be added.

Rating: 2/5 – Provides a different approach to client managers in combining the tracking of keywords as well as managing accounts. Unfortunately the poor execution and basic functionality make it an unlikely companion in its current state.

Twitteron

 

Overview

Very similar to other client managers except with more of a browser feel by using the familiar ‘Back’, ‘Forward’ and ‘Refresh’ capabilities, Twitteron provides more management of friends and followers. A variety of options are provided to view followers by avatar, profile and/or latest tweet. It is also possible to open all tweets by an individual including replies. This provides useful details without having to visit Twitter for more information.
Some useful features include the API counter which tells users how many calls from Twitter are available within the rest of the hour. The API (or Application-programming interface) is a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a Web-based software application or Web tool. Twitter released its API to the public so that software developers could design tools powered by its service. So that these tools can work they must send regular requests to Twitter asking ‘Do you have anything new?’ Twitter currently limits the number of API requests to 70 in a 60 minute period. Therefore a tool which allows the user to keep track of their API count helps them avoid going over their allowance. Additionally, it is also possible to preview photos in Twitteron without having to follow a link in a new window.

Issues

The new tweet composer is unconventional in its design, making it difficult to identify at first. Instead of provided a character count, the editor turns red once a user goes over the 140 character limit. This could be frustrating to users who are unable to know when a tweet is reaching its size limit. Additionally, there is no feature to identify new/unread tweets. This forces users to scroll back through their feed until they reach something they have read. Not having such a feature or something similar will increase the chance of missing information.
Twitteron also uses icons instead of labels to communicate each feature. Where some are straightforward, others such as the public timeline and search notifications icons are more ambiguous. It is also not obvious why someone would be interested in viewing the public timeline for every member of Twitter. Thankfully a pop-up description does appear when a user hovers over an icon. Next to the icons is a heading which changes according to which section you are looking at. However, the design of this makes it look more like a button or a drop-down input field. This makes its purpose misleading and could annoy some users.
There are very few features provided above the standard features on most client managers. It’s not possible to manage multiple accounts or sort friends into groups. It also cannot save keyword search results once a user navigates away from this section.

Verdict

Does not have enough unique or useful features to tempt users away from clients such as Twhirl or TweetDeck.

Rating: 2.5/5 – Not always straightforward to use.

Conclusions

None of the client managers reviewed had severe usability issues. Although most provided essential tools for users such as tweeting and monitoring friends’ tweets, none of them provided everything. It appears that in view of the fierce competition amongst Twitter applications, each new product tries to set itself apart from others by providing something different.

Learning to use a client manager is important in most cases due to the prevalence of icons. Once users are familiar with a client manager they are more likely to stick with it rather than spend time learning to use another tool. This is similar to browser behaviour where users are reluctant to switch. A quick guide to each client browser reviewed is provided in the table below. This will make it easier to select the best manager to use based on your own needs.

              
Features
TweetDeck
 Twhirl Hootsuit
 TwitterFox

DestroyTwitter

Twittm
Twitteron
 Tweet, Reply, Retweet
 Direct message
      
 Favourite



 
 View sent tweets/archive
 

 
 
  
 View friends

 
 
 
 View @ replies




 
 View direct message




 
 View favourites

 
 
 Search


 


 Save searched words 
  

 
 Track trending topics

      
 Shorten links





 
 Add images



 
 
 Mark unread tweets

 

  
 Manage multiple accounts
 

    
 Provide statistics  
    
 Update new tweets in real time

 



 Sort friends into groups
   
  
 Synchronise with other PC's
   
   
 Customise look and feel


    
 Customise updates /or API counter


 

 
 Update accounts other than Twitter


    
 Change language

     
 Schedule tweets to send later
  
    

 Rating

 3.5

  4

 2.5

 2.5

4

 2

 2.5

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This article was written by User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultancy that helps clients gain a competitve advantage through improved ease of use.
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