The Perfect Twitter Client (Hint: Not Quite Built Yet)

The Twitter client battle continues. Yesterday, Seesmic released the latest version of its Seesmic Desktop, followed up by TweetDeck doing the same plus launching its iPhone app. There’s coverage of the specifics on CNET and elsewhere but the highlights for each release are Seesmic Desktop’s integration of personal third-party accounts (like bit.ly) and cross posting to multiple accounts versus TweetDeck’s syncing of groups and columns between its desktop and iPhone app.

Out with the Old, in with the New
Competition is a great thing. With the growing number of Twitter clients, users continue to benefit from choices. Of course, that makes it hard for Twitter client developers. But that hasn’t stopped new entrants. For example, check out Mike Rundle’s Beak app (Mac only).

A competitive market means less users will lock themselves to a particular client. I recall that Twitterific use to dominate the marketplace. Adobe AIR apps like Snitter, Twhirl (purchased by Seesmic), and eventually TweetDeck came along and changed all that. One reason is that the latter versus for the former are cross-platform, finally allowing the large PC userbase to actually have decent options to try.

Anecdotally, in a given day, on my desktop, I switch between TweetDeck, Tweetie, Beak, and some Firefox add-ons. On my iPhone, I again use Tweetie, TwitterFon, and now TweetDeck. Yesterday, I also re-installed Seesmic Desktop, after being unimpressed with its initial release. The point here is that unless the developers start figuring out features that keep users from switching to the “coolest” updated app, this trend will continue.

One Client to Rule Them All
A major reason I’m usually switching between apps is because each Twitter client seems to miss one thing I need. On the Mac side, Beak gives me easy access to my favorite tweets but Tweetie let’s me click on a user and see his recent stream (in Tweetie, I have to look at my own profile to see my favorites). Now, with Seesmic Desktop, instead of jumping over to bit.ly to shorten my link with my own account (instead of generically), I can do so directly in the application. TweetDeck provides a seamless transition from any of my desktops (I use PC + Mac everyday) to my phone. You get the picture.

While I’m sure my feature set is not exhaustive, I’ve created a mindmap of what Twitter client developers should try to include in their builds. This list assumes that for the most part, the developers have already covered the basics. It also does not overly focus on the user experience of the application. The latter is a key factor because these features need to be included intelligently.


(full size on Flickr)

My Current “Winners”

On the desktop, Tweetie is starting to be opened more and more. It incorporates the most features from the list above, in a way that’s intuitive. Overall, it will be harder for Adobe AIR apps to compete on the Mac platform. So, from that perspective TweetDeck will have a tougher time with Mac users but will likely completely dominate on the PC. That being said, I am one of those crazy ambidextrous users who works both on a PC and Mac throughout the day and syncing groups and other settings is very appealing.

Plus, TweetDec on the iPhone just blew up the App Store. There are no other apps (not just Twitter-specific) like TweetDeck. Syncing is going to push Mac users to sacrifice the beauty of a native Mac Twitter client for the functionality of seamless Mac to iPhone usage.

Conclusions

Going forward, I think Tweetie could add groups, easier favorite access, and if it wanted to really “go big” syncing with iPhone. It would then compete head-to-head with TweetDeck’s big feature and solidify its grip on Mac users. Syncing is a large effort and that’s probably why TweetDeck focused on it. For TweetDeck, an easy win would** **be adding third-party integration for services like bit.ly, which would lessen Seesmic Desktop’s “wow” factor.