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Review: Seesmic Desktop. The TweetDeck Killer?

There’s a bit of a buzz today about Seesmic Desktop, a new*, Adobe AIR-powered desktop application that some are suggesting might have enough va-va-voom to see off TweetDeck.

Seesmic Desktop

* Seesmic purchased Twhirl in April of 2008. Seesmic Desktop is essentially the new version of Twhirl.

It’s a free download that requires Adobe AIR and works with both PCs and Macs. You need to register with Seesmic first, and you can do this here.

In this review I will look at the PC version, using my Samsung NC10 netbook.

Installation

Installation is a breeze. Add and authorise your Twitter account and away you go. It also supports multiple Twitter accounts, a feature currently lacking in TweetDeck.

Like TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop supports multiple columns, groups and search panes, as well has lots of other cool features, including drag and drop and a built-in webcam picture grabber. It has a very Mac-look to it and is pretty easy on the eye.

In the configuration settings you can do cool things like select how you want your re-tweets to be displayed: either as the standard RT, or by the full ‘retweet’, the ‘via’ method or ‘as said’ (but no ‘by…’ which to me seems far more prevalent than the latter).

Notifications that prompt you when you receive certain kinds of tweets can be received either with a sound or visual pop-up (or both, or neither).

Like TweetDeck, you can control how much of that precious API you tap into each hour. Twitter limits the maximum external application calls for everybody to one hundred, but Seesmic Desktop has a limit of eighty. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. It certainly means if it gets popular then the Seesmic Desktop collective won’t be draining all of Twitter’s API, but you might find that you run out of API a lot quicker than you do using TweetDeck. Moreover, the software doesn’t display how much API usage you have left, which means that if and when you do run out, you probably won’t realise it has happened for a little while.

Usage

The software defaults to a one-column display using the ‘home’ pane. This is your entire Twitter stream – everybody you follow. If you click on your username under ‘Accounts’ in the sidebar, the home pane gets some extra tabs: replies, direct messages, archives (messages sent by you) and a very handy ‘lookup’ feature, which lets you do a quick search on any Twitter account.

Open a replies pane and it works like Twitter.com’s mentions – at least, how they’re meant to work in theory, not lagging hours behind and ignoring most re-tweets. They actually do work on Seesmic Desktop – any mention of your @username in any tweet will make it to your reply pane, whether it’s at the beginning, middle or end (and this includes re-tweets).

All tweets also show both the user and real name of the tweeter. This is a nice touch, and makes everything that little bit more personable.

Avatar’s are used in a similar way to TweetDeck – scroll your mouse over and four options will pop-up, allowing you to easily reply, re-tweet or direct message a user, with an extra button for additional functionality (like adding to groups).

Seesmic Desktop supports groups – called ‘userlists’ – and they work roughly the same as TweetDeck. One major difference is that you have to add all users manually, one by one. In TweetDeck any new group presents you with a list of all your contacts which you can select using checkboxes and add at once. This is missing in Seesmic Desktop, and while not the end of the world it does mean setting up any large groups can take a while.

One big plus over TweetDeck is if you decide to close a group or search pane, it isn’t lost forever – it moves to your sidebar so you can easily retrieve it again. (It can be eliminated permanently using the ‘remove’ button.)

There’s built-in support for Twitpic and a webcam feature, and the mute button is useful.

Perhaps most importantly for low-end users, I found that Seesmic Desktop used about half of the memory that TweetDeck needs.

And Now The Bad News

It’s not all gravy, though. As said I was using the Windows version of the software and it would often crash when minimised or when attempting to close down. When this happened, I would lose my entire front-end configuration, which was extremely annoying. The back-end settings were recalled, but what I found was because of the risk of a crash I always tended to maintain a minimalist look. If you have a huge monitor and liked the idea of ten columns with lots of groups and searches, losing all of that would be really quite irritating.

The software is in beta and I hope this will not be an issue in the next release. I have spoken to a few friends using the Mac version and they have said it isn’t an issue on that OS. (Thanks especially to @alicam for his help).

Seesmic Desktop doesn’t display which tweet another user has replied to, which means that it’s very awkward to trace or follow conversations.

There’s no warning when you delete one of your own tweets – click on the button, and it’s gone.

Pros

  • Supports multiple Twitter accounts
  • Replies are mentions
  • Shows the real name of the user within a tweet
  • Has a mute button
  • Closed panes aren’t deleted – they move to your sidebar
  • Has built-in support for Twitpic and a webcam function

Cons

  • Seems to crash fairly regularly and when it does you lose all front-end configuration
  • Groups require manual additions and can be a bit awkward
  • Doesn’t display which tweet another user has replied to, so tracing conversations is awkward
  • Doesn’t track API usage, but limits you to 80 calls/hour
  • No warning when deleting a tweet

Conclusion

My gut feeling is that in 6-12 months this may well be the Twitter client of choice for Mac users, but right now it’s a little too buggy and misses a couple of quite important features to go stratospheric, certainly on Windows. Losing all your configuration during one of the too-frequent crashes is a real problem.

One big plus about TweetDeck is that it’s really quite robust – it takes a lot to make it fall over. It’s been through many revisions and as Seesmic Desktop is still essentially beta it’s unfair to be too judgemental right now. Certainly, if Seesmic continue to make improvements and can limit the memory drain of the software it’ll be a great alternative or even first choice for many users, certainly those with low-specced machines. There’s a lot of cool stuff here, and I wonder if TweetDeck are paying attention.

(I had planned to do a video review for this and made a few unsuccessful attempts – two young children, a hungry cat and an electrician in my building going up and down the stairs made all the recordings somewhat less than optimum. :) )

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