This Bird Has Flown (Alternatives To Tweetdeck Air for Windows)

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The history of mankind is peppered with stupidly short-sighted decisions. “What? Supply enough lifeboats for everyone on board? Oh, like that’ll be a good PR move for our unsinkable vessel. GET OUT”, for example. Or, if you’d like a more contemporary example, Twitter have decided to deactivate the version of Tweetdeck that runs via Adobe Air. And by ‘deactivate’, we don’t just mean “stop providing support for it” or “stop making it available for download from their website”, we mean “if you' have it installed on your desktop computer, it’ll magically cease to function at some point during April 2013.

Yep, when faced with the problem that many people are still using the old version of their desktop client rather than the web-based ‘standalone’ version because the new version is a fiddly, unfriendly, nasty chunk of web-based fudge, Twitter have decided to make people get with the times by, well, smashing their favourite toy and telling them to go out and get the new one. They’re SO good at internet!

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Yep, instead of updating the ’yellow icon' version of the app to cope with the forthcoming Twitter API update, it’s being left to rot. Which is slightly annoying for all the people who’ve tried other Twitter desktop apps, including the newer ‘blue icon’ version of Tweetdeck, and found them all sorely lacking. As for using Twitter’s actual website to use Twitter… well, some of us prefer to attempt doing a dozen things at once, cheekily ignoring the fact we’re not concentrating properly on any of them.

You see, following in the footsteps of Windows XP, Tweetdeck Yellow (as we’re going to call it from now on) was pretty much a victim of its own success. It was so damn good at what it did, there was no compelling reason to move on to supposed ‘upgrade’ Tweetdeck Vista. Sorry, ‘Tweetdeck Blue’ (we’re not sorry). Somehow, people don’t buy into the whole “Well, it’s worse, but it’s newer” ethos (see also: iTunes 11).

“How did you get in here? Also, what IS Tweetdeck anyway?”, you might be asking. Well, it’s a standalone program (or ‘app’ as the kids call them nowadays) for doing Twitter via a column-based interface. Operating in much the same way as a stupid drivers think a motorway does, with slow moving DM traffic on the right-hand third of the screen, the more frequently updated Mentions stream in the middle ‘lane’, and the General Twitter Feed whizzing by in the ‘fast lane’ on the left.

It seems horribly complicated for people first making the transition from Web Twitter, but give it a few hours and it all becomes utterly natural, pretty much the perfect way to use Twitter. This is especially true if you’re running it on a second monitor, where you can glance over to it in between your everyday business, and be alerted instantly if something new appears on your mentions or DM column. Before long, you’ll have reached the point where your eyes instinctively flicker over to your Mentions column the instant a few pixels within it flicker to life within the confines of your peripheral vision. And if you’re livetweeting an important global or national event (say, the election of a new Pope, or an episode of Splash!), Tweetdeck was the most practical way to keep tabs on what other people are saying whilst also having instant access to all the people letting you know they’re unfollowing you unless you immediately stop banging on about Splash!.

Sadly, baby needs shoes (or whatever Twitter’s equivalent of that is. Twitter needs new swans made of diamonds? We don’t know), and Tweetdeck Yellow didn’t have functionality to prod you in the retina with a stead stream of promoted gubbins. And so, instead of doing something creakily archaic like letting Tweetdeck Yellow users continue using the service by paying a modest subscription or something, Twitter Inc are preferring to stuff it into a sack and take a trip to a digital canal at midnight.

There needs to be an alternative. Preferably not Tweetdeck Blue, because well, fuck those guys who created and maintain the greatest social tool since the invention of the web. But, more pertinently, because Tweetdeck Blue lacks many of the features that made Yellow such a delight to use. What we really need is something like Yellow, but in many regards, better.

Hey, look! It’s the moon on a stick!

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By which we actually mean “Janetter for desktop”.

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We looked at a few alternative Twitter clients for Windows, and while many of the ones that sounded promising have since been discontinued as a result of Twitter’s recent restrictions and general stubbornness with third-party app developers (such as Seesmic,Twirl or Twimbow), we stumbled across one that we really like. Despite having an initially offputting default layout and the fact it seems to have been originally developed for Japanese kana character set rather than The Queen’s Good Solid British Alphabet, we’re prepared and a little surprised to admit that Janetter is, well, better.

While it doesn’t quite have everything that Tweetdeck Yellow did, much of it is there. More pertinently, much of it has been improved on. Are you ready for a comprehensive comparison of the two? Because that’s what your eyes are about to see. Unless you dash out of the room screaming or something.

A DIRECT COMPARISON OF TWEETDECK YELLOW AND JANETTER

THE LAYOUT

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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Inflexible. You’re stuck with a choice of the standard Adobe Air font, or the ‘International’ font, which is basically Arial. Due to the constraints of Adobe Air, you can’t resize the fonts. The column widths can’t be resized either, and while they’re a workable size to start with, it would be nice to make them fill your screen. A fixed height for the cells containing each tweet means that while everything looks nice and uniform, unnecessary spacing means that you don’t get as many tweets on screen as you could. Even worse, that uniform sizing can mean that some tweets, such as ones in all caps, can’t be seen in full. You can pick and choose the colours that the interface uses, though there’s no support for custom skins.

In Janetter:

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Nicer. The height of each cell varies depending on the length of the tweet, meaning that while the relatively disorganised appearance is slightly annoying for mild OCD sufferers like us, the most is made of the space. Importantly, resizing the Janetter window also resizes the columns within, automatically snapping down the number of columns accordingly once you get within a specified size, meaning you make the most of your screen real estate. You can choose to view tweets in any font installed on your computer, in any of six font sizes (though control freaks can install a plugin that allows ultra-specific font sizing).

Janetter also offers a variety of HTML5-based themes – installable from within the program itself – that change the layout accordingly. As one might expect from a program of Japanese origin, some of the designs are a little, well…

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The ‘Black’ theme is the one we’re using (and the one you’ll see in screenshots here), but there are plenty of different styles to pick from, and you can even add your own theme to the gallery.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 0, JANETTER 1

READING TWEETS

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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Works perfectly. If you’re currently at the top of the All Friends window, it’ll automatically scroll new tweets into view. If you’ve scrolled down a bit, it’ll stay where it is, and automatically load new tweets above your current position.

In Janetter:

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Similar, but not quite as well done. At the top of the window, it autoscrolls newest tweets into view, as with Tweetdeck. If you’re a bit lower down in the window, it adds to the ‘unread tweets’ count, but won’t load the tweets in automatically, preferring to wait until you scroll to the top of the window again. Presumably done to reduce the number of API calls, but still faintly annoying.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 1, JANETTER 1

READING TWEETS FROM A PROFILE

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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You’re viewing the tweets of an individual by clicking on their profile name, from the new column which pops up in the right-hand section of the Tweetdeck window. All very handy, but only the last 20 tweets are shown from your chosen profile. If you want to go back any further into the Twitterer’s timeline, you’ll need to visit their page using your browser.

In Janetter:

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As it should be. Not only are a generous batch of tweets loaded into your client when first visiting a user’s profile, as you scroll towards the bottom of the page a wedge of earlier tweets are loaded automatically into the space below.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 1, JANETTER 2

VIEWING PROFILES

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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Simple and practical. Click a username, and their profile appears in the right-hand column. Follower/following counts, tweet counts and lists are shown, along with recent tweets. Click another username, and their profile will replace it.

In Janetter:

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Ooh, initial reservations here. The profile appears in a pop-up window, which isn’t ideal. Plus, you need to click a second time to get to a list of recent tweets. Poor show, Janetter. OR IS IT? There’s actually much more on offer here, not least that the recent tweets tab autoloads earlier tweets at the bottom of a timeline (as we just said, weren’t you listening?). But also, in a pleasing steal from many tablet and phone Twitter apps, there’s a tab to see a user’s reply stream, letting you find out just how much undeserved abuse a celebrity who’d just dared to express an opinion is getting. You can also view that user’s favourited tweets (that is, tweets they’ve favourited from other users), and also a lovely little option for you to leave a private note that only you can see about that user. “If he’s talking about Tatu again, he’s probably drunk”, that kind of thing.

Oh, and that thing about it being a pop-up window, which is usually annoying? Well, while Tweetdeck only allows you to view one profile at once, the pop-ups mean you can compare several sets of tweets side-by-side.

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Thus. Handy. You can even click on profile in the ‘background’ window to bring them up side-by-side, while the profile pop-up windows stay on top.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 1, JANETTER 3

VIEWING PICTURES/YOUTUBE VIDEOS

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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Yes, yes, a sodding J*** T**** ‘joke’. That was the only picture in our timeline when we took the screenshot. Anyway, see a link to a picture, click on it and it’ll open inside the client. Click the ‘X’ to close, or click on the picture itself to load it in your web browser. Simple but effective, providing the photo is from Twitter, Twitpic, Flickr or another compatible image hosting website. The same applies to YouTube videos, too.

In Janetter:

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Off to a good start here, with an inline preview appearing automatically for any images in your timeline, though you can switch it off if you’re using Janetter in polite company and you happen to follow dozens of ‘specialist’ film stars on Twitter. Viewing pictures themselves work in a similar way to Tweetdeck.

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But with a few extra options. Which is nice of them. Inline previews also appear for YouTube and Vine videos (there’s modern), though they can’t be viewed in-client. The inline previews more than make up for that, though.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 1, JANETTER 4

REPLIES/CONVERSATIONS

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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A friend has replied to another friend on Twitter, often leading to thoughts of “what? How do they know each other? I know him through Gary and her through Susan, but those are wholly incompatible social circles. Just what IS going on here? I think I was right, my entire life really is a Truman Show type experiment. I think I’ll spit in the face of the next person I see, just to see if they come out of character”. Anyway, you see the reply, and wonder what the context was. Here, you can click on the “reply to” text and see the conversation in action, in a roundabout fashion. Kind of. Though a quirk of Tweetdeck Yellow means that if the user has a lengthy Twitter handle and/or is using a Twitter client with a lengthy title, the “in reply text” won’t fit on the screen. So, you can’t do that.

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In Janetter:

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In Janetter, any replies automatically quote the original tweet, which frankly is such an obvious and brilliant thing we’re surprised that it hasn’t been a standard feature in every Twitter client since forever. As for conversations, just click the ‘expand’ icon at the bottom left of a reply tweet, and…

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…the entire conversation, all inline within the Twitter stream. Brilliantly done.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 1, JANETTER 5

RETWEETS

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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Done a funny? Or if you’re us, made a lame statement about a topical thing that you hope someone will show to their followers out of pity? Happily, Tweetdeck lets you know within your reply stream. But – crucially – now only does so for the first retweet you get, meaning that if you accidentally tweet something that goes viral, actual replies don’t get swamped in amongst the retweet notifications. Very nicely handled.

In Janetter:

Erm, it doesn’t do that. In fact, the main window doesn’t seem to allow you to see your tweets being retweeted at all. It DOES display a pop-up notification each time you get a retweet (or someone favourites a tweet of yours, or you get a new follower), but nothing appears in your stream to let you know. So, if you miss the pop-up notification, you’ll need Favstar to find out just how witty you are. Or in our case, aren’t.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 2, JANETTER 5

FOLLOWER COUNTS DISPLAYED AUTOMATICALLY BENEATH EACH AVATAR, SO YOU KNOW IF SOMEONE IS IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO REPLY TO

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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There is an option to do this.

In Janetter:

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There isn’t an option to do this. You have to click on each person’s profile and look at the number there, like a CAVEMAN OR SOMETHING.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 3, JANETTER 5

SEARCH

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

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Pretty standard, but functional. Just don’t click on a hashtag for #BBCQT on a Thursday night unless you want to have to forcequit the damn thing, as it’s not good at handling very busy searches. And no, we can’t remember why we’d used those previous searches.

In Janetter:

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Normal search? Get with the times, Grandma. Plus, the standard search is quick and easy to use.

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Meanwhile, popular searches seem to be handled much more effectively in Janetter, mainly because it doesn’t try to cram them all into its mouth at once like Tweetdeck tends to. Plus, you can toggle push notifications on or off, which is nice.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 3, JANETTER 6

PLUGINS

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

Sorry, no. There is what there is.

In Janetter:

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Slightly limited at the moment, but certainly possible. Your best bet (if you can’t read Japanese) at the moment is at EmeraldShell.com, where you can find plenty of add-ons for power users, such as mass blocking tools, the ability to update your profile from within the client, or the ability to automatically follow new followers.

TWEETDECK YELLOW 3, JANETTER 7

CONTINUING FUNCTIONALITY BEYOND MAY 2013

In Tweetdeck Yellow:

Not unless you’ve got something monumental with which to blackmail the board of Twitter Inc.

In Janetter:

Unless God get really angry about everyone on Twitter making jokes about the new Pope and decides to put a stop to the human race, yes. Probably.

FINAL SCORE: TWEETDECK YELLOW 3, JANETTER 8

 

And there you go. After becoming quite embarrassingly irked by the announcement regarding Tweetdeck Yellow – which let’s face it, is one of the most First World of Problems anyone can have – we thought our Twitter experience would be diminished. Happily however, it has led us to find a new Twitter client which, while not quite perfect, is definitely a step up. Hurrah!

(Reader’s voice: “Yes, well done. Are you ever going to start writing about television on here again?”)

Tele-what?

1 .:

Patton said...

Too bad images on this post are gone.

Since yellow tweetdeck was killed by twitter my use of it has decreased. I've tried with the blue one, chrome, hootsuite... nothing is even close to its usability. You didn't mention two important features of the yellow one (at least for me): filters and the ability to clear columns. ¿are they present on Janetter?
Nevermind, I'll give a try. If you think it's better (and you seem to know the yellow one as much as me) I guess it's worth the time.

Thank you!