Get Decked: A Look at TweetDeck

Having trouble keeping up with your social media? The TweetDeck crew released a major update to the "social dashboard" this week that adds support for Facebook and MySpace. Now you can update several major services and bring order to your social media universe.

You have to have the right tools for the job. In many cases, if the job is working with social media, the Web sites just won’t get it done. Facebook, Twitter, and others are designed for casual users or for users who are content to live in one walled garden. Want to break down the walls between Twitter and Facebook? Then you’ll want to take a look at TweetDeck.

So what is TweetDeck? Some call it a “social dashboard.” In essence, this is a pretty good description. It uses the Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace APIs to present a unified and customizable view of social media activity. The problem with Twitter, et. al., is that they present a straightforward timeline of updates with no way to organize, categorize, or filter the streams. So you either live in on the site, or miss a lot of content, assuming you follow more than a handful of people. TweetDeck is an attempt to bring some order to chaos and give you control to wade through all the updates and spend less time putting out your own updates.

This week the TweetDeck folks released a major update (though it’s still in beta) that adds support for Facebook and MySpace. (People still use MySpace?) I tested the Twitter and Facebook access to see how the application was coming along. I’ve tried TweetDeck before, but decided to give it another spin now that it handles Facebook as well as Twitter. Unfortunately, no support for the open source darling, Identi.ca, but maybe in the near future.

Getting Decked

TweetDeck is an Adobe Air application, which has its pros and cons. The pro is that TweetDeck runs on any platform that supports Adobe Air, which includes most modern Linux distros, Mac OS X, and Windows. So if you have Windows on your work machine and Linux on your home machine (for instance), you can use TweetDeck on both without any major cross-platform issues.

The downside is that it breaks the normal method for installing software on Linux, and requires you to install Adobe Air before you can even touch TweetDeck. I’d prefer to be able to use zypper up to get new versions rather than having to go through the Adobe Air routine each time I install new packages.

But that’s all a minor headache. If the application is worth using, it’s worth putting up with a tiny bit of grief with the installer. So, is TweetDeck worth using? Quite possibly. Sort of depends on how you use Twitter and Facebook.

If you use Twitter and Facebook frequently, and you have a fair number of contacts (I follow more than 300 people), then it’s probably well worth trying out TweetDeck. Conversely, if you only follow a few people and update very sporadically, then there’s not much point in bothering.

Hands down, my favorite TweetDeck feature is the ability to create groups. TweetDeck displays everything as a column. By default you’ll have a column for replies, direct messages, and for all friends. You can create new columns out of searches, or you can create a column to show a specific set of users. For instance, if you have a group of co-workers that you follow, you can sort them from the rest of your contacts and see only those updates. If you want to only see friends or some other group, you can do that as well. I sort out co-workers, openSUSE community members, and close friends, so I don’t miss their updates in the stream of all the people I follow.

One very cool feature in TweetDeck is “Block & Report as Spam” — if you’re being spammed by someone on Twitter, you can not only block the user, but also report them as a spammer. This isn’t obvious at first, though. You have to go to Other Actions -> User -> Block & Report Spam, which is pretty deeply nested. With any luck it’s not a problem that most users have to cope with all that frequently, though.

TweetDeck is really built for people who do a lot of Tweeting. It’s a social media maven’s delight. You can see what is “popular” in any given column, which shows a display of hash tags, URLs, and usernames. You search (filter) any column, the update bar stores recently used hashtags to make it easier to re-use those, add a photo, and even translate an update. I don’t know how many people need to post to Twitter in a non-native language, but there you go.

The bottom line, if you spend an hour or more a day using Twitter and/or Facebook, you owe it to yourself to check out TweetDeck. If you spend less than that, you’re probably just as well off using the Web-based client.

Note that TweetDeck isn’t perfect, even for heavy users of social media. If you’re collaborating on an account, for instance, you might want to check out CoTweet instead. If Identi.ca is a must, check out Gwibber or one of the other open source friendly tools for microblogging. Gwibber is certainly better integrated into Linux desktops, and it’s made a lot of progress in the last year.

TweetDeck was not entirely without problems. I tried setting up a TweetDeck account, but each time I tried it seemed to time out. Might be an application problem, or perhaps a server-side issue. This wouldn’t be a big deal except that every time you do a search and then delete the column, TweetDeck warns you that it can’t be undone and you should register and have a TweetDeck account. And it doesn’t seem that you can disable this lovely warning. So, it quickly becomes annoying that you can neither disable the warning or register. I suspect it will be fixed soon in any event.

I also experienced some rendering weirdness the first time I used the Facebook features, but after restarting TweetDeck, everything worked swimmingly and I wasn’t able to replicate the problem.

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