Monday, December 12, 2011

TweetDeck 1.0 review: One leap forward, a few steps back

Adobe AIR is junk. A pile of junk. It's a resource-sucking, battery-draining pile of junk. It bears repeating multiple times.

Up until a few days ago, AIR was required to use TweetDeck, one of the most popular Twitter apps for both Mac and PC. I've put the new version through the paces and I've found an app that has plenty of major improvements and a few nagging setbacks.

The pros

TweetDeck now uses current Web standards as the backbone of its app instead of the much maligned Adobe AIR. That makes it extremely versatile and lightweight, meaning that it would theoretically impact a laptop's battery life way less than normal.

Even better, this means users don't need to download and install an app on, say, a friend's computer to get the TweetDeck look and feel (complete with synchronized settings). The application can be accessed from TweetDeck's website. This is especially good for people who are turned off by some of the changes to Twitter's website. Think of it as an optional way to view Twitter.com.

Many of the cosmetic changes center around simplifying the look. Gone are those tiny "unread tweet" indicators that served virtually no purpose (who really goes through and marks tweets as read?), plus those clunky icons at the bottom are eliminated. There are some drawbacks to this simplification, because it also means eliminating useful features. I'll touch on those later.

I really like the tweet detail page (shown below) that TweetDeck when you click on the "more link" (or just on the tweet itself). It shows if the tweet has been favorited or retweeted, plus shows any replies or previous parts of the conversation. It also shows any media, like Twitter photos or YouTube videos. It's an incredibly handy feature.

tweetdeckdetail

The Cons

It's not all rosy. While the look and feel has substantially improved and many of the apps behaviors work well, there are some things that are broken.

The navigation is a bit of a mixed bag. I'm puzzled by the lack of horizontal scrollbar. It wasn't broken, but I can see why designers found the scrollbar a bit kludgy and annoying, but the "solution" the team has implemented is far from perfect.

The biggest issue is illustrated below:

TweetDeck Nav

On the main, left-most column view, the user is able to hit the giant target to navigate to the next set of columns. Yet, the next view that is displayed, the middle, looks like this:

TweetDeck Nav2

What if the user wants to return to the main set of columns? There's no giant target to the left to return, so they have to hunt around to the top and click on the arrow or the set of columns indicators. This slows down the user enough to make it a hindrance on usability and enjoyment of the application. In other words, a horizontal scroll bar is a much more suitable navigation metaphor.

One more thing about general navigation. It's probably a bug, but it's an annoying one: if you're scrolled anywhere from the top of a column and you navigate to another pane of columns and then return, the scroll position is lost. This means wasted time going back through old tweets.

For what is marketed as a power-user application, TweetDeck doesn't support a very power user-friendly feature: keyboard shortcuts. There's no way to easily reply, retweet or favorite tweets. Worse, there's no way to bring up the compose view for tweets without hunting to the top of the screen and hitting the compose button.

This is a gripe, but attention-to-detail was something Twitter was known for: If the user has the display name set to "@name," retweets will still show the user's full name.

Occasionally, a tweet will open inside of the TweetDeck app's browser. On Windows, this requires a close and restart of the application. On Mac, the user must right-click and click "back" to return to TweetDeck.

When following the Arab Spring and other world news events, I relied on a handful of Twitter applications' translate features to get a first-hand account of what's going on. In TweetDeck, as in Twitter for iPhone 4.0, the translate feature is gone. This is likely due to the expense related to using Google's translate service. Apps like Tweetbot continue to use the feature, so it seems pretty cheap of Twitter to deprecate the feature.

TweetDeck also supports the streaming API. This means updates roll in as soon as a tweet is posted. I ran into it a few times with the AIR version, but TweetDeck 1.0 also experiences weird dropouts where the streaming API stops working and instead refreshes. This is can be frustrating sometimes.

Back to those icons on the bottom I mentioned in the pros section. First Twitter for iPad didn't support it from the get go, then Twitter for iPhone eliminated it in a recent version prior to 4.0 and now it's gone from TweetDeck: timeline filtering. Say I saw something I wanted to reply to, but lost track of it (perhaps due to a certain scroll bug). In old versions of TweetDeck, I'd hit the filter button and hit type a few words to find that tweet. This feature is gone, for seemingly no reason.

TweetDeck continues to support Facebook, which is somewhat surprising, but it did cripple the robust support it had in place. A user can view the Facebook timeline and notifications, but they can't like or reply to status updates. Instead, clicking on a post opens the browser. Fortunately, TweetDeck continues to support posting to Facebook from the compose view. TweetDeck is kicking its users out to the browser perhaps to train them for the inevitable: TweetDeck might not always support Facebook.

Notifications on Mac don't always work. It's not clear if the application requires Growl, the powerful notification engine, to be installed. If this is the case, an OS X Lion user has to pay $2 to get the whole TweetDeck experience with Growl notifications.

While the TweetDeck application is fully supported in Web browsers, accessing the TweetDeck website from Safari on iPad results in an unsurprisingly bad experience. This is a disappointment, considering TweetDeck was a launch app for the iPad, but it has had a prolonged absence from the App Store. There is no indication if it will return.

Wrap-up

TweetDeck remains the best way to access Twitter from multiple accounts between Mac and PC in a continuous way. No matter where the app is accessed, settings are maintained. By simplifying some of the experience, usability is decreased, navigation is broken and necessary features are omitted.

On the whole, TweetDeck 1.0 leaves room for improvement, but shedding Adobe AIR is an important first step.

Let me know what you think of this review, tweet @JeremyDStanley.