Twitter desktop round-up: Top 5 free apps compared

(Credit: CNET.com)

What's better than posting tweets from Twitter.com? Just about everything.

Third-party Twitter apps are typically more powerful, crammed with managerial features that get you quickly viewing, sorting, replying to messages, and retweeting in a click or tap. They automatically shorten URLs to fit Twitter's character limit and help you post pictures through other services, like TwitPic and yfrog. Most of these desktop apps manage multiple Twitter accounts, are customisable and are more attractive than Twitter online. They also sometimes succeed in posting your tweets during times when Twitter's site famously fails.

Convinced yet? Good. We've rounded up five desktop applications that help you post tweets and retweets to Twitter. Four run on the Adobe AIR runtime environment (Windows | Mac | Linux), which you need to download before you install the Twitter apps.

Twhirl is the veteran of the bunch, with TweetDeck beta and Seesmic Desktop close behind. Seesmic's ownership of Twhirl makes the two apps' core features similar, but there are enough differences to attract different user sets. Nomee places the least emphasis on Twitter, allowing replies and retweets from its social aggregation newsfeed. Nomee's people-focused take on social news isn't for everyone, but it's worth reading up on to see if it's for you. Finally, there's Digsby IM (Windows only), which has recently bulked up Twitter features for its chat app. Unlike Nomee, Digsby envisions Twitter (and Facebook) more as a means of communication than as news data sources. Find out more about each app we've tested in our round-up below.

Twhirl

One of the first desktop Twitter services built on the Adobe AIR platform, Twhirl rolls the functionality of many ancillary services into one. For example, Twhirl automatically swaps in shortened URLs in place of long URLs, sends photos to TwitPic and searches for Twitter topics using a built-in TweetScan engine. In the settings, you can configure Twhirl to cross-post updates to Jaiku and Pownce, much like the service Ping.fm. An acquisition by Seesmic results in video tweets courtesy of that service.

Though cheery, the interface is also economical, providing extensive options for viewing and updating statuses and messages for all your Twitter, Friendfeed and laconi.ca accounts without overcrowding the small screen. The preferences let you customise your receipt of tweet alerts, the program font and network pings, but still no skinning. We'd like to see options for dark, sleek and multicoloured looks. We approve of the quick icons for sending messages, and for unfollowing and blocking unwanted contacts. While no longer the freshest-looking desktop Twitter app, Twhirl's small size and full features are a convenience.

Download Twhirl now from CNET Australia Downloads.

TweetDeck

The dark grey TweetDeck beta is one of the more attractive Twitter desktop apps out there. With it, you're able to engage with Twitter tweets much as you can on Twitter.com, and then some. TweetDeck beta, for one, also lets you follow friends' Facebook and MySpace status updates. It shares some similarities with Seesmic Desktop in its default tri-column view, which you can also shrink down to a single column. The requisite filtering buttons and other management tools help keep your inbox tidy. Like other Twitter apps, TweetDeck beta shortens links and manages pictures. You can block and unfollow contacts, even reporting them as spam.

The extras make it nice. TweetDeck beta includes a translation tool and has recently added syncing, so you can keep your feed preferences and feed content identical on multiple computers and even the iPhone. It offers a lot of visual customisation options and the capability to add new columns to keep up on search terms, for example.

TweetDeck beta still has some growing to do, especially in making its additional features a little more intuitive. So far its feature set is encouraging and more robust than other, better established Twitter apps.

Download TweetDeck now from CNET Australia Downloads.

Seesmic Desktop

Arranged with a side bar and multicolumn view, Seesmic Desktop is ideal for Twitter and Facebook fanatics with multiple accounts. The cross-platform Adobe AIR app collects all status messages from all your accounts in one feed. You have the option of making that status feed the only column, or can keep it as one of three default columns on the Seesmic Desktop interface. Direct replies and messages are the other two options. The app's search box and a text field from which you post your updates give it the feel of a truncated browser.

Seesmic Desktop competently handles the Twitter desktop basics, like sending messages, replies and retweets, posting images and shortening links. You can comment and "Like" a buddy's Facebook status, and can now also manage activity on a Facebook "fan page" if you administer one. You can also keep a user list, save a favourite message and unfollow or block contacts. Two favourite features include posting tweets to Twitter and Facebook simultaneously, and, like Twhirl, receiving notification pop-ups above the task tray for certain events, like receiving a new direct message or reply. Seesmic Desktop lacks the capability to integrate most other social networking accounts, nor does it have any skinning options or other visual customisations.

Seesmic Desktop and Twhirl share a parent company and many core features. Yet Seesmic is a slightly stronger management app for those who constantly juggle more than one Twitter account, for those who manage a Facebook fan page and for those who want to keep track of Twitter and Facebook timelines together.

Download Seesmic Desktop now from CNET Australia Downloads.

Nomee

Nomee, a dark-themed Adobe AIR app, re-envisions the way you follow social feeds, placing the emphasis on the person or news topic you follow, not just the social network you're on. A card contains several sites or services that are related to the person, like a Twitter stream, website or blog post. Nomee includes cards on celebrities that Nomee staff or other users have created. An integrated newsfeed lets you read all the updates from your cards at once. The draw here is that Nomee lets you control what others see of you if you share only limited information about yourself — your blog, for instance, but not your Facebook profile page.

Nomee is mostly read-only, though it does include some functionality to reply to tweets and retweet from the desktop app. The Twitter integration is bare bones, but it does the job. You can also easily see pictures and watch videos from Nomee, a top feature in our eyes.

What's uncertain is how well Nomee will do to keep you informed of the people who are important to you. It's a good way to keep tabs on celebrities and other public figures through all the sites they touch, but we don't see it replacing other desktop aggregation apps like Tweetdeck or Seesmic, and those who are already using the online FriendFeed to follow-up on friends may not get enough out of Nomee if they're uninterested in public figures. Likewise, Nomee's "card" system won't appeal to all, especially since it requires effort to create, and since you can only follow others who have Nomee cards in their name.

Download Nomee now from CNET Australia Downloads.

Digsby

With so many ways to network and socialise online, you may find it difficult to keep track of everything. Digsby promises to help keep chat, email and social networking conversations in one convenient place, but it didn't work exactly as we expected.

This freeware program looks a great deal like other popular chat programs, such as AIM. With a skinny rectangular box running along the side of your computer, a prompt to add accounts helps you get started. From here you will find a menu of seven different IM programs to choose from, six different email programs and four different social networking sites. When selected, each simply asks for your log-in and password and connects to the system. Your various programs are displayed, with IM buddy icons separate from email and social networking emails.

Single-click or mouse-over the name of the person you want to chat with to access IM options, including SMS, email and file transfer. Double-click to initiate an IM chat, while the context menu offers those options as well as buddy-specific history logs. The email service will open your default email client, although you can preview your webmail inbox through the Digsby contact list. Facebook users can update their feeds, check their friends' feeds and get full feed streams in Digsby, and the program now supports MySpace IM, as well. If you have a lot of IM accounts to keep in one place, this freeware tool can help keep you organised.

Users should be aware that Digsby now calls out all of its bundleware during the installation process, so install with caution if you don't want the Ask.com toolbar or the grid computing protocol. This is a marked improvement from when Digsby only allowed opting out after the program was installed, so we're more comfortable recommending the program once again.

Download Digsby now from CNET Australia Downloads.



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