What I Want in a Twitter Client

To date my favorite desktop client for Twitter has been Twhirl because it’s so simple. Since Seesmic took it over it seems to have been abandoned, though, so I have been trying out new clients to see if I can find something with new features like support for the new, weird ReTweet feature.

I haven’t found anything I like yet.

First, let me tell you how I use Twitter. It seems that I must use it differently than everyone else or something because my needs seem to be different. Again, this is how I use it; your needs/uses/opinions may differ:

  • Twitter is a passive data stream. If I miss a tweet or 20, I don’t care. Maybe I’ll go back and look, maybe I won’t.
  • Twitter is not my business. I’m not a consultant. I don’t have a bunch of searches for keywords I’m monitoring. I’m not looking for mentions of a bunch of hashtags. I don’t have a community I’m managing. I don’t follow 30,000 people.
  • Twitter is simple. It’s a river. People drop stuff in the river. I pick stuff up. Sometimes I drop stuff in the river. If I like what you drop in the river, I follow you. If I stop liking what you drop in the river, I stop following you.
  • Twitter can be a conversation… sort of. It’s nice to be able to ask a question and get an answer, or to answer someone else’s question. That said, it’s not the place to have a bunch of back-and-forth discussions. It’s not a threaded newsgroup. It’s not a blog with a comment feature where you can discuss at length longer diatribes on points of view. Services like TwitLonger sort of break that and, to be frank, annoy me. If it takes more than 140 chars to say what you need to say, Twitter’s not the forum.

So, knowing that, you can correctly determine that I am not a Twitter power-user. I don’t need a giant overkill app to manage every aspect of my social networking and watch searches and crap. I just don’t need all that. Twitter, to me, is simple, and that’s what I want out of a client: simple.

So, knowing that, here’s what I want out of a Twitter app:

  • One column to rule them all. I want one column that has my timeline, my mentions, and my direct messages all integrated. I may want to click something to filter and only show mentions or DMs, but generally, one column is perfect. It doesn’t take much real estate on my screen and isn’t overwhelming or distracting.
  • Unobtrusive. I don’t need to be notified when new tweets come in. It’s not email. I don’t care.
  • Ability to not overtake my OCD. If there’s a “new tweets get marked as unread” and you have to somehow mark them read, it’s going to kill me. Like a ringing phone, my OCD will take over and I’ll have to answer. Like I said, it’s not email - I don’t need to know there are unread items. It’s okay if that feature exists as long as I can turn it off.
  • No browser. I don’t want to run a whole browser instance just for Twitter. I want it in a small, standalone app that I can dock to the side of the monitor and forget about it. I don’t want to have to switch to a different tab to get to it, I don’t want to have the browser chrome surrounding it, etc. (I’ll make an exception for something like an out-of-browser Silverlight app where, yeah, there’s sort of technically a browser running, but you know what I mean. Firefox is a memory hog. I don’t need that to get tweets.)
  • OAuth support. I don’t want to hand you my credentials. Twitter’s got OAuth now, use it.
  • Integration with services I use. I like bit.ly and YFrog. I want to be able to continue using them in an integrated fashion. Oh, and I’d like them to actually be used as me, not as an anonymous user or as the application. Barring native integration, have a plugin interface so I can write my own integration.
  • Reliable. I don’t want it crashing, eating RAM like popcorn, or having weird UI glitches in the middle of average use.
  • Clean. Sort of along the lines of “One column to rule them all” and “Unobtrusive,” I don’t want the UI cluttered up with bells and whistles and lights and buttons. Simple, clean, easy.

It sounds like the web experience is enough for me, doesn’t it? And you’re pretty much right. I don’t need much more than what the web experience offers, except it requires a browser running all the time, which isn’t what I want. So… “web experience out of browser” is probably the easiest way to explain what I’m looking for.

Now, Twhirl doesn’t satisfy all of these, but it’s the closest I’ve come. I’ve tried TweetDeck (overwhelming!), several Seesmic products (either overkill or requires a browser), witty (glitchy, unintuitive UI), and a couple I don’t even remember now… but none of them are just plain, simple, concise Twitter.