Four Apps to Take Your Tweeting to the Next Level

By Scott Nesbitt - September 13, 2009

There's no doubt that Twitter has become a major player in the world of social media. In fact, it's pretty much at the top of the heap of the various microblogging services available on the Web.

And with good reason: Twitter is easy to use and the breadth and depth of posts is something to see.

For a power user (or a power user wannabe), the Twitter Web interface leaves a bit to be desired. It's fine for reading and posting messages (called tweets in Twitter-speak). But the interface is lacking in a lot of ways. If you PullQuote want to, for example, send a message to another Twitter user or retweet (repost an interesting message), then you have to remember a keyboard command and/or do some copying and pasting.  Why do that, when you can use graphical tool that gives you point-and-click access to all the Twitter functions you need? And a few more to boot. There a number of desktop clients for Twitter, and a few Web-based ones too.

This TechTip looks at four of the more interesting Twitter clients out there. All of them are free, and they work on computers that run Linux, Mac OS, and Windows.


Going minimal with Qwit

While somewhat barebones, Qwit (an Open Source Twitter client) fills in a lot of the gaps of Twitter's Web interface. And it's easy to use.  Qwit has a tabbed interface that seems to be popular with desktop Twitter clients, and other kinds of desktop apps too. There are seven, to be exact for updates that you and the people you follow have posted, for messages that you've sent and have been sent to you, to do a search, and one tab each for all new posts to the service and for specific Twitter feeds that you want to pay particular attention to.

While I'd like to get rid of a couple of the tabs, there isn't a way to do that. A minor annoyance.

But the real flexibility is on Qwit's Home tab. That's where you view your posts and the posts of those you're following. You can type an update at the top of the Qwit window, and you can even attach a photo to a tweet. The photo doesn't go to Twitter; it's uploaded to a site called TwitPic and linked to your tweet. On top of that, long URLs are automatically shortened.

Every update on the Home tab has three additional buttons which allow you to reply to a tweet, repost it, and to send the poster a private message.  It's a lot easier than remembering keyboard commands.


Giving twhirl a whirl

You might remember a TechTip that looked at a technology called Adobe AIR. One of the great things about AIR is that it make it easy for developers to create software that interacts with Web applications. Twitter is no exception.

twhirl is one of the first truly cross-platform AIR apps that I've used. Other applications, either Twitter clients or apps in various other categories, either didn't work under Linux or were sluggish.

With twhirl, you can post, reply, retweet, and send direct messages all by clicking on an icon on the toolbar at the bottom of the twhirl window. You can view the people you follow and who follow you, and search for specific Twitter users. You'll need to know their Twitter user name, though.

As well, twhirl shortens URLs with a click that's great for posting a long link that cuts into Twitter's 140 character limit. As with Qwit, you can share photos in a tweet by uploading them to TwitPic from within the app.

My only gripe with twhirl is that its interface takes some getting used to. It's obvious what some of the icons in the twhirl window do. Others you're not so sure about until you click them. I'd also like URL shortening to be automatic, but clicking a button to do the deed isn't all that onerous a task.


Don't tweet, twait instead

Twaitter is one of the growing number of Web-based Twitter clients. But Twaitter goes further than other desktop and online Twitter clients with a few features that power user and businesses will find useful.

Like any other Twitter client, Twaitter enables you to read and view tweets, send replies, retweet messages, and view and send private messages to other Twitter users. You simply go www.twaitter.com and log in using your Twitter user name and password.

But Twaitter has one feature that's sets it apart from all other clients. That feature is the ability to schedule tweets. Using Twaitter, you can write tweets ahead of time and let them appear on Twitter at specific times and dates. This is useful if, for example, you're doing a marketing promotion and want to leak details on to Twitter without it seeming like you're spamming.

To use Twaitter, all you need to do is type your tweet. Then, click the twait button. Choose the time and date one which you want the tweet to appear and then click the Schedule button. You can also tell Twaitter whether you want the tweet to only appear once, or if its going to recurring at regular intervals.

One useful feature of Twaitter is that ability to edit a tweet. Even the best of us succumb to the typo bug. If you've entered a tweet in Twaitter, you quickly fix a typo or an error. To do that in Twitter's Web interface, you need to delete the tweet and then resend it.

If you don't want to worry about fiddling with a browser to get to Twaitter, you can always bring Twaitter to your desktop using Prism (software that creates desktop shortcuts for opening Web applications in their own windows).


Add TwitterFox to your browser

As long as that browser's Firefox. Why install yet another piece of software on your computer when you can make Twitter a part of your browsing experience? That's what TwitterFox does.

It's an add-on for Firefox, the popular Open Source browser. While Qwit is fairly bare bones, TwitterFox is downright minimalist. After installing and configuring TwitterFox, an icon (the stylized Twitter t) appears in the lower-right corner of the Firefox interface. When updates from the people you follow are available, the icon displays how many updates there are. Click the icon to open the TwitterFox window.

The TwitterFox window contains three tabs. The main one lists all updates that you and the people you follow have posted recently. The other tabs list any messages in which you're mentioned (what Twitter calls @mentions) and private messages that you've sent or received. There's also a small area at the bottom of the window for entering a tweet.

TwitterFox is easy to use, but not always intuitive. A part of that comes from its minimalism. If you want to reply to a tweet, you must hold your mouse over the tweet. A curved arrow appears. Click the arrow, and go from there. On top of that, there's no button for retweeting a post. Instead, you right click a tweet and choose Retweet from the menu that appears. That right-click menu, by the way, also enables you to copy tweets and to delete any of your own tweets.

The integration with Firefox goes a little further than TwitterFox simply being spawned from the browser. In the bottom left of the TwitterFox window is an icon that looks like a bit of chain. Click that to include the URL of current tab in a tweet. If, with the URL, the tweet is over the 140 charactewitterr limit, TFox will shorten the URL using the popular TinyURL service.


Conclusion

Good desktop (or even Web-based) Twitter clients give you a lot of flexibility and a number of features that are just not found at the Twitter site. They make tweeting faster and easier.