Comparing Desktop Twitter Tools: TweetDeck, Twhirl, Spaz and Twitterific

August 29th, 2008

Microblogging platforms such as Twitter are becoming more plentiful every day, but for each person won over by the simplicity of their interface and function, there is another that has wanted more. Such is the case with Twitter, which has thrilled users with a simple microblog platform yet has users (and sometimes developers) turning to new tools to enhance their Twitter experience.

Since Twitter already covers the microblogging side, the tools Twitter users wanted had to do more than just post or reply; they wanted to change the way they saw Twitter, to post pics, to shorten urls (very important when you only have 140 characters), and do it all with an interface that didn’t take up the whole page or require that the web browser is open all day. Users got what they wanted with the four applications we reviewed this week (Twhirl, TweetDeck, Spaz, and Twitterific), each of which offered the above features and even added a bit more to the mix. Three of the applications were built with Adobe AIR, the new desktop platform, which meant they could bring a high level of performance without burdening the browser, and each of the applications enabled users to personalize their interface.

After the chart we’ll go into them in more detail, but before we do, here’s what we looked for. We looked for features that Twitter has yet to offer, unique customizations, or efficiency.

TweetDeck Twhirl Spaz Twitterific
Posting, replying yes yes yes yes
Group friends yes no no no
Search posts yes yes yes no
Time frame 48 hours most recent no limit most recent
Adding people to your following list no yes no no
Post pictures yes yes no no
Shorten links yes yes yes no
Multiple accounts no yes no yes
Customize interface yes yes yes yes
Cost free free free free

It’s always a good sign when the application name is well suited to the function of the application, such as it is with TweetDeck. TweetDeck puts all of Twitter on the deck for you, lined up in panels. Each panel is information from Twitter, from the first panel with the public timeline to the last panel, Twitscoop, the application that measures the frequency of keywords in Twitter, then puts them into a clickable tag cloud. The advantage to Tweetdeck is how many ways you can sort the information through the decks. By groups of your friends, popular terms (Twitscoop),or by specialized (and savable) searches finding what you are interested in is even easier.

To demonstrate, let’s do a quick walkthrough to see the capabilities of the application, starting from the download and a sign in to Twitter. Once you’ve logged in you’ll see how the simple box design of Tweetdeck begins to fill up. The first panel is always all of your tweets – the timeline – and the panel aside it is the panel for your replies. The buttons on top of the panels allow us to become active with Twitter, from the Tweet button that lets us post, shorten urls, and send pics through TwitPic, to the Search button that let’s us search locally (across our tweets) or globally (all of Twitter). It’s from the search that we begin to see the reach of TweetDeck; for each search another panel has opened, grouping people and tweets by our search. Until we close this panel we will have the results of this search. Same is true for the groups we make (through the Group button and selecting the people we are following). For users that are looking to gather and sort information, TweetDeck is the most compelling of the four; it is the only one that allows Twitterers to sort people and topics, and the only one to incorporate Twitscoop.

TweetDeck Screenshot

Not everything goes according to plan with Tweetdeck, though. If you accidentally close a group you are forced to recreate it, and some users find it difficult to navigate sideways across the panels.

Twhirl is an ambitious Twitter client, giving users the option to interact with Seesmic, Identi.ca, and Friendfeed at the same time as Twitter. Each of these services is treated the same way – a black box with posting and viewing options – with some minor differences allowing for video content with Seesmic (Twhirl is owned by Seesmic). Taking it from Twitter, we see that Twhirl has allowed for the basics of Twitter; posting, replying (directly and to the public), and marking Tweets as a favorite are present, all actionable through the small icons in the interface. To this list Twhirl has added an url shortner for urls that take up too many characters (Twitter only allows for 140), as well as the ability to send pictures through Twitpic and post simultaneously to Jaiku and Pownce. What makes Twhirl interesting is more than its ability to cover a variety of social microbloggers, it’s the capability that it has to filter tweets by search terms. If you were a user that was keen to discuss something you had seen on Listio, for example, the filter button, (which resembles the profile of a funnel) would let you enter in the term you would like to filter by (Listio). Once you had entered it, you would see the tweets reduce to only those mentioning Listio.

Twhirl Screenshot

Replying, direct messaging, marking a tweet as a favorite, and retweeting are all handled through the thumbnail, demonstrating how compact the controls are for Twhirl, but where Twhirl has been made compact, to use the most notable feature of Twhirl – its integration with the other services – Twhirl is no longer compact, instead filling the screen with a number of boxes. Another detraction for Twhirl is how difficult it is to find the following and unfollowing feature (you have to click on the user’s name – not the avatar – and then the plus and minus icon will show), but for Twitter users that like to have interaction along several platforms, Twhirl is an useful download.

Spaz loads as all the programs did, with a quick download and sign into your Twitter account. When it opens, in a cleanly designed black window, it has a lot of similarities to the simple designs of the other Twitter clients we reviewed this week. Indeed, Spaz has many of the same features, from posting, replying, and searching to url shortening. Where Spaz differs is in the ability to customize, which Spaz let’s you know right from the start. Open sourced and with a built-in CSS editing tool, Spaz offers the user the chance to change any style they like in the interface. Fonts, colors, box styles, and even the layout can be modified. For users unfamiliar with the coding process, there are some of the more popular codes already written for easy pasting into the CSS editor. One of the more engaging layouts is the “checkerboard,” which lays out the tweets in boxes that resemble a checkerboard. Unlike the majority of Twitter applications (and Twitter) that lay out the tweets in a line down the page, this is a fun way of seeing the tweets as they come in without the tickertape effect.

Spaz Screenshot

The obvious downside to Spaz is that most users will not want to handle the CSS, and since there are few ways to personalize the Spaz interface in the settings, Spaz’s strongest feature is lost. Spaz also works with Identi.ca and allows for posts and replies in Ping.fm, though there are no simultaneous feeds as there are with Twhirl.

Twitterific seems to have been designed for the Mac power Twitter user, a Twitter client that takes up little desktop space, and has a number of keyboard shortcuts. Much as the other applications reviewed this week, Twitterific feeds the tweets from Twitter, both your own and the public timeline, and allows you to post and reply. As with Twhirl, Twitterific supports multiple Twitter accounts, but unlike Twhirl, which has a separate box for every sign in, Twitterific requires you to sign into one at a time. Twitterific’s best features are the ability to set desktop preferences and update status in iChat, Adium, and Skype. With Twitterific you can set it to stay on top of your windows, set a hot key to toggle the Twitterific window to the top, or to have new tweets come in boxes that disappear after a moment so you never miss a tweet.

Twitterific Screenshot

Twitterific, however, does not have a full range of capabilities; to follow (or unfollow) Twitter users, or to search for users, Twitterific sends you to the Twitter site, and to keep your tweets a reasonable size there were no url shorteners. This makes Twitterific the least attractive of the four, but Twitterific does have a version for the iPhone that may make it more appealing for mobile users.

All of the Twitter clients this week operate from a download and enable the user to get a degree of access to Twitter without the burden on the browser, however not all of them had an equal degree of access. Tweetdeck allows users to group, find, post pics, and shorten urls; Twhirl enables users to have multiple accounts, shorten urls, post pics, and filter tweets. Spaz allows customizations, and Twitterific has an application for the iPhone. Each of the applications is free, but Twitterific’s free version comes with ads. For an ad free version they are offering a purchase price of $14.95, though at the time of this review we did not see any ads come through the tweets. In the end it is TweetDeck and Twhirl that offer the most. For more details on these applications or if you would like to find similar applications, there is the Listio search Twitter+desktop.

Previously in this series: Twhirl: Twitter Tool All Boxed Up

Application: Twitter
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Twitter/
Website: http://www.twitter.com
A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Answer on your phone, IM, or right here on the web!... Learn more
Application: twhirl
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/twhirl/
Website: http://www.twhirl.org
twhirl is a desktop client for the Twitter microblogging service. Most of the features available on the Twitter website are accessible through twhirl, too. Plus, a lot of usability enhancements have been added. twhirl is based on the new Adobe AIR platform that allows web development techniques ... Learn more
Application: Tweetdeck
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Tweetdeck/
Website: http://www.tweetdeck.com
TweetDeck is an Adobe Air desktop application that is currently in public beta. TweetDeck enables users to split their main feed into topic or group specific columns allowing a broader overview of tweets. TweetDeck allows the user to continue twittering even when offline. Tweets and direct messages... Learn more
Application: Twitterific
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Twitterific/
Website: http://www.iconfactory.com/software/twitterrific
Twitter client for Mac with a small footprint, Twitterific is lets you post, reply, and handle all the tweets you can, in the way you want. Customizable options for keeping the window on top, and Applescript are available. Download required, and iPhone ready.... Learn more
Application: Spaz
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Spaz/
Website: http://www.funkatron.com/spaz
Spaz is a Twitter client that lets you post, reply, track, and find the Twitter traffic you're addicted to. It's also open source, which means that not only is constantly improving, but it is highly customizable. Through CSS, code, or the settings, users can make the Twitter tool they want with Spa... Learn more

New to Listio? Our tag cloud search offers an easy way to narrow your hunt for the perfect web application or service. No more second guessing of search terms. Just click on one tag, then as many more as you'd like to narrow your search results. It's easy and ensures you get to the listing you want. Finding web 2.0 was never so easy.

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5 Responses to “Comparing Desktop Twitter Tools: TweetDeck, Twhirl, Spaz and Twitterific”

  1. @kibitzer Says:

    Hiya! Just want to let you know that Spaz CAN post pics through Twitpic. You just drag a pic onto the timeline.

  2. Alex McArthur Says:

    Any plans to update this?

  3. Twitter Exploration, Results, and Future Possibilities « The latest and greatest from Whit Says:

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  4. Twitter Resources | Acroment Technologies > Cleveland > Northeast Ohio Says:

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  5. Azad @ Internet Geeks Says:

    thanks man you had just helped me to decide which tool i should use.
    Thanks!

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