I was down in LA for the Twitter Conference, 140TC, last week. The conference was slated to be the intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, which might be two of the weirdest places on earth. The conference didn’t disappoint. I mean, where else could I meet Tony Robbins, The Iron Sheik and Biz Stone, all on the same day?
In my last post, I laid out what I wanted in a Twitter application with Groups and Mobile being high on the list. I wanted to create groups once and to be able to access those groups on my iPhone and desktop. I thought that the easiest way to accomplish this was to create a web app that had a mobile interface.
There was another way to create my desired product and that was to have a fully featured desktop app and a fully featured iPhone app and sync your Groups between the two. Syncing, however, is less than ideal. I have long history of using Desktop and Mobile apps that sync together and generally, syncing was done poorly (data loss or corruption) or at best, slowly.
Enter: Tweetdeck for the iPhone
Tweetdeck for the iPhone and its desktop equivalent have mostly answered my call for the perfect Twitter application.
It doesn’t change that I don’t particularly like Adobe AIR due to its lack of native OS interface conventions, but Tweetdeck answers most of the feature requests that I outlined previously and works well enough. It even includes some of my “nice to haves”
Reading Tweets, both in “All Friends” and “Groups” as well as a view of the most recent update. Much like Tweetie, you can then dig into your friend’s profiles and recent Tweets by clicking on their avatar.
Groups and Columns
Groups functionality was one of my primary wants in an iPhone app. In many ways, having groups on the go is even more important than at my desktop. Being able to quickly see the folks that matter to you is something that is sorely lacking in Twitter and I look to 3rd parties to make up for this deficiency.
To ease the burden of creating groups in a limited interface, Tweedeck can sync with your desktop client. Syncing from the Tweetdeck server makes adding Groups from the desktop a snap, although you will have to create an account on Tweetdeck’s Web site.
A few issues
The initial view into Tweetdeck shows us a list of “All Friends” in a slightly shrunken view. I like this view as it immediately gave me a clue that swiping to the right would give me a different view.
What I don’t like about this view is that like the desktop app, Tweetdeck on the iPhone tells users things that they don’t really need to know about. In this case, the number of API calls are displayed, which is interesting, but not necessarily that useful. There is any number of better ways to do this (limit API calls to avoid this issue altogether or make limiting API calls a preference). Ask the average Twitter user (let’s say… @Oprah) what an API call is and I’d bet the best you’d get is a blank stare.
That and a few of the other “extra” buttons (left and right arrows, for example) add to the already busy interface. The worst thing about this is that otherwise, Tweetdeck is almost as minimal an interface as Twitter can have and retain all the extra functionality that Tweetdeck offers.
Groups functionality is great to have on the iPhone app, but I had imagined that adding people to groups on the iPhone would be a little tedious. In many ways, Tweetdeck did an admirable job at adding this functionality, but they only pull in your 100 most recently added Friends(I’ve got over 500). Tweetdeck then displays your Friends list alphabetically.
The trouble comes in when you click “load more friends”, Tweetdeck grabs the next 100 people and “fills in the blanks” alphabetically. If I had realized that this is what was happening from the beginning, I’d have clicked “load more friends” 5 times to see the full list, rather than sifting through the list twice to find the folks I wanted to add.
Finally, the app has been a little “crashy,” let’s just say. I’m running the iPhone 3.0 software, so perhaps there is a little blame to spread around.
Tweetdeck for the iPhone – Great 1.0 Product
I’m hesitant to even qualify my opinion of Tweetdeck for the iPhone with a “1.0 product” label, but it’s mostly there. To some degree, the UI issues that I’ve outlined feel a little niggly given how good this app is otherwise. Huge thanks to the folks at Tweetdeck for making such a useful, free (for, I suspect, a limted time) application.
After yesterday’s PeopleBrowsr announcement, I started looking around for an “ideal” Twitter client. In terms of features, here’s what I came up with (beyond the baseline Twitter features). They are ordered by importance.
Ok, here’s my dirty little secret about Twitter, I don’t read everyone that I follow all the time. – gasp –. I know, it’s terrible. But here’s the thing, I like everyone I follow and I do read their Tweets some of the time. I don’t want to unfollow them because they are having a bad week and and I just can’t read their feed. Or they represent a company/product I like, but they are getting a little too chatty.
So far, no iPhone client software has groups (as far as I know), but even if there were, I’m not sure I would use it. Currently, managing groups in a desktop app is an onerous task. Managing groups on the iPhone would be Herculean.
I love desktop apps. I’m a Mac user and there are all sorts of common conventions that, if you are a good developer (read: Cocoa), I get to use across all applications. From big things (like Emacs key bindings, preferences in the same place, etc) to little things (pressing the up arrow to go to the beginning of a field), there are lots of little niggly conventions that are embedded in my hands, making me faster and more efficient.
What sucks about Air is that you get none of the OS conventions that I mentioned above. This might not be a problem if you are new to computers or not terribly advanced, but for power users, it sucks. I imagine that this is something that Adobe can fix, but I’m not holding my breath. Adobe fell off the OS native app convention bus a long time ago.
Web app with mobile version
Now, you could go off and create a killer desktop app for the Mac, but you’ve got two problems there. First, there are more potential Windows customers, so you’re not addressing the whole potential market and second, you’re not solving my mobile problem.
Like Google Reader replacing NetNewsWire for me, having an app that works on the web (mobile and desktop) keeps my world in sync, without syncing anything. Before Google Reader, I thought that web apps were clunky compared to desktop apps (and most web based RSS readers were clunky compared to NetNewsWire), but using two full fledged computers (my Mac and my iPhone) syncing with the web just wasn’t cutting it.
If the app is web based, has a mobile version and has groups, congratulations, you’ve just solved my biggest problem with keeping up on Twitter. I get many of my desktop “conventions” and everything stays in sync, because it doesn’t need to sync.
Note: I’d probably relent on this point if Nambu and Tweetie Mac clients would have a baby (Tweetbu? Nambie?). I tend to read more Tweets at my desk and write more Tweets on the go.
I have a personal and business Twitter account. I conceivably could have more, but managing multiple accounts on the web isn’t fun. I’ve limited myself to two, mainly because I use two browsers and I don’t really want to use more.
In theory, if I were married to a Twitter client, I might be able to do without groups and sign up for yet another Twitter account that I exclusively read from, but like many email clients, app designers would need to account for this by making a primary “response” account to go along with my “read” accounts. But so far, this hasn’t happened
Nice to haves
Beyond that, I’m easy. Obviously, I need to be able to see DMs, @replies and non-“@” mentions of my usernames.
Here is my list of “nice to haves.” Get the above features nailed down before looking at this list.
Inline photo/video integration
Location links into a web map
Avatars are nice
Preferences in an obvious spot (or even better)
An interface so simple I don’t need to find the preferences
My pals Lee and Sachi LeFever of CommonCraft have done it again, just in time for SXSW. These guys do a really great job of explaining difficult topics in “plain english.” These videos are really great if you are just starting out trying to figure out this strange online world.
At last year’s SXSWi in Austin, TX, Twitter broke for the first time, err, um, was a break through product that helped people quickly figure out where the cool parties were and helped them track down their friends without calling them.
Since then, Twitter has been quickly adopted (and broken) by at least some of the masses (myself included).
I didn’t really get Twitter at first and I thought that it represented all the worst things about blogging (navel gazing, echo chamber). Here is a link to the day I spent talking about my cat in protest of Twitter. I even annoyed myself.
Eventually, I came around…
So, what the heck is Twitter? If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve probably seen my rapidly changing status. That’s coming from Twitter. And while I do kid about the Twitter uptime, by and large, they’ve created an incredible service based on something very simple.