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TweetDeck Makes Twitter Better. Why Aren't You Using It?

So you’re into Twitter, you’re following lots of people, and now suddenly it all seems a bit of a… blur?

The reality is that while you can run even a very large Twitter account on Twitter.com, the site itself is pretty limited. Tweets very quickly fall off of the page, @replies sometimes don’t arrive at all, and basic functions like re-Tweets and direct messages require you to actually type things on the keyboard. What is this: the 90s?

Fear not, my friends, because TweetDeck tackles all of these issues with easy one-click solutions. It also allows you to filter your Twitterfeed in different ways, allowing you to keep track of your favourite Tweeters, as well as yourself.

What Is TweetDeck?

My Tweetdeck

To quote directly from the site itself:

TweetDeck is an Adobe Air desktop application that is currently in public beta. It aims to evolve the existing functionality of Twitter by taking an abundance of information i.e., Twitter feeds, and breaking it down into more manageable bite sized pieces.

TweetDeck enables users to split their main feed (All Tweets) into topic or group specific columns allowing a broader overview of tweets. The default columns can contain All Tweets from your timeline, @replies directed to you and direct messages. The GROUP, SEARCH and REPLIES buttons then allow the user to make up additional columns populated from the live tweet information. Once created these additional columns will automatically update allowing the user to keep track of a twitter threads far easier.

Essentially, TweetDeck makes Twitter a more enjoyable and manageable experience for the user.

What Are The Advantages of Using TweetDeck Over Twitter.com?

  • TweetDeck has one-click access to replies, direct messages and re-Tweets.
  • Comes with built-in link shortening functionality (i.e., TinyURL.com, is.gd, snipurl.com, and so on).
  • Can be configured into specific ‘groups’, each of which will filter a certain part of the Twitterstream (as per your settings). This makes it a lot easier to follow your friends or favourite Tweeters.
  • If you’re working in another program, TweetDeck will run in the background, and notify you when you have new Tweets.
  • Built-in search functionality.
  • Updates continuously while open. No more refreshing the page. (If you leave the software open overnight, it will store all updates.)
  • TweetDeck can be resized to your exact specifications: from a single column to a full-screen multideck (and anything in between).
  • Comes with built-in translation software.

Installing TweetDeck

TweetDeck is available for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

TweetDeck runs on the Adobe AIR runtime. To use TweetDeck, you will need to install Adobe AIR first.

Once installed, click on the link below to install TweetDeck.

(Version 0.21.5 was the current version as of February 24, 2009. Visit TweetDeck.com to check for the latest installation of the software.)

Configuring TweetDeck

Once you’ve installed the software, login. The application defaults to three columns – All Friends, which is the entire Twitterstream of everybody that you are following (in other words, what you see on Twitter.com), Replies, which is all the @ messages sent directly to your username, and your Direct Messages.

The software is perfectly functional with the default configuration but it’s not ideal. Here is how I set-up my TweetDeck, which works best for me:

My Tweetdeck

As you can see, I have five columns: a group called ‘Interesting People’, the All Friends column, a specific search for ‘sheamus OR @sheamus’, the Replies column, and Direct Messages.

You can add and change columns using the icons at the top-left of the software.

Tweet – This opens up the Tweet box which allows you to send a message to Twitter. TweetDeck will ensure you don’t run over the 140 character mark, turning the box red if you do. Note the button marked ‘Shorten’ below the text box. If you enter a URL in the ‘Shorten URL’ field, and then click ‘Shorten’, TweetDeck will automatically shrink the URL down and insert it directly into the text box (using the URL shrinker of your choice, which you can adjust directly to the left of the ‘Shorten’ button). You also have Twitpic and other functionality here, too.

All Friends – Opens the All Friends column. This is your entire Twitterstream, i.e., everybody that you follow (including yourself).

Replies – Opens the Replies column, which displays all the messages sent to @yourusername.

Direct Messages – Opens your Direct Messages column, displaying all the DMs sent and received by you.

Favourites – Displays the Tweets you have marked as favourite.

Group – Opens a new group column. Name the group and add everybody you want included. Once done, TweetDeck will only display Tweets from those users within that group’s column. My ‘Interesting People’ group contains personal friends and other Twitter users who are find consistently of value. You may choose to set up a group that tracks people at work, bloggers, tech news, or anything that you like.

Twitter Search – Opens a new column that allows you to query the Twitter.com search function. Type in what you are searching for, and the results will be displayed in a new column (which will update throughout the day). As we have seen, I always have a search function that queries my name. This isn’t as egotistical as it might seem. By doing this, it ensures I never miss any replies, re-Tweets or general nods in my direction. (Socialisation is what makes the Twitter world turn, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to ignore somebody who has made the effort to ask me a question.)

Twitscoop – Twitscoop displays the current Twitter buzzwords in cloud format, as well as the more popular trending topics.

Both 12seconds and StockTwits are specialised functions that won’t be of much use to the average Twitter user.

From time to time I replace the Direct Messages column with another search query or group, but the above is my default set-up. As said, it works best for my purposes but you might find a different configuration is more suited to you. Experiment with the different options until you are happy.

Using TweetDeck

Once TweetDeck is installed and configured to your liking, sit back and watch it for a while. New Tweets will arrive automatically and the software runs itself, and will continue to do so until you turn it off.

If you scroll your mouse pointer over the avatar of any user, the image will be replaced by four icons: reply, direct message, re-Tweet and ‘other actions’, which gives you more options, including the ability to follow or unfollow a user, email, language translation, add to group, favourite and more.

These ‘one-click’ options make using Twitter a far more rewarding experience.

The Twitter API

When Twitter opened their API to external programmers (which made software like TweetDeck possible), they placed a limit on fair usage. This limit in TweetDeck is represented by 100 calls to the API per hour. If you look at the top-right of TweetDeck, it will inform you of your current remaining API, and the time of the next reset, which is when you get go back to the full one hundred.

When the API reaches zero, TweetDeck won’t update until the next reset. You can still Tweet, but no Tweets will appear in the software. (When this happens, which is increasingly rare once you’ve figured out how TweetDeck works, I just go to Twitter.com until the reset time. If you leave TweetDeck open, you’ll know when this has happened as the normal notifiers will begin to appear.)

The Twitter API is affected each time you receive a message on Twitter, or ‘call’ the system in some other way (i.e., clicking on a user’s profile name, or using TweetDeck’s refresh button, both of which cost three API points). You can configure TweetDeck’s API settings (including making clicks on a user name open in your browser, which saves API) and it’s worth experimenting with this if you’re having problems.

Disadvantages

TweetDeck, for the most part, is a massive improvement on Twitter.com. Once you’re used to the software and have configured it to you liking you will find that following the Twittersphere is relatively simple.

However, the application – or specifically Adobe AIR – can be quite memory intensive and users have reported problems on old PCs and laptops (and certainly some of the lower-specced Netbooks like the Asus EEE PC). Adobe recommends 1GB of memory for AIR, so any machine with this kind of power should be fine.

The limitations on Twitter’s API usage can be frustrating at first, especially when you’re getting used to TweetDeck and trying all of the buttons. :) Over time, however, you’ll become accustomed to the pace and be more mindful of putting too much of a drain on the API. (As above, I tend to flick back to a Twitter.com window in my browser to do things that eat up a lot of those precious points.)

Finally, if and when you decide to close a group or search column, all the information in that pane will be lost. You cannot save columns to the background; they are either running, or they are not.

Conclusion

The relative few disadvantages of TweetDeck are far outweighed by the enormous range of options and control the software gives to the user. It’s generally accepted that somewhere between 150 and 300+ followers Twitter.com becomes a bit of a nightmare to keep up with, but many popular users manage tens of thousands of followers successfully using TweetDeck. Give it a try, and I wager you’ll never go back to just Twitter.com again. :)

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