Style, Sync, Platforms - Pick Two

This used to be my conclusion when it comes to Twitter clients. You just can’t have it all. But wait, can you?

Usually, I read my timeline alternatively (an sometimes even alternating) on my Mac and on the iPhone. Naturally, I don’t want to accept the hassle to always manually seek for the first unread tweet. I want this done automatically.

The solution for this problem used to be provided by Echofon which is available on both MacOS and iOS and more or less1 seamlessly syncs the first unread tweet between the clients. This is all done by a proprietary solution implemented by Echofon. So far, I was unaware of an alternative approach.

  • Platforms: check
  • Sync: check
  • Style: well …

The reality is that Echofon is a decent client with a solid set of features but visually it is lightyears behind the stunning visual appearance2 of other clients like, for example, Tweetbot for iOS or Twitterrific for MacOS. Their assessment with respect to the three mentioned criteria used to boil down to

  • Platforms (Tweetbot, Twitterrific): check
  • Style: check
  • Sync: well …

The bottomline is that usability is more important than style and that’s what kept me more or less happily using Echofon so far until yesterday I was directed to a service on the Internet called Tweet Marker which offers a similar service independently from a specific client.

In other words, the concept behind Tweet Marker is that the ability to sync the first unread tweet between clients is made available as an API to client developers. According to the website, a solid handful of clients are already available that support Tweet Marker, among them the already mentioned Tweetbot and Twitterrific.

The activation of the support for Tweet Marker can be done from within the individual clients, it is not required to log into an account at Tweet Marker or something. Does it work? Yes.

The implementation in Tweetbot is even nicer than the syncing in Echofon. In Echofon, the first unread tweet is indicated by a slightly thicker line that separates the first unread tweet from its predecessor. Sometimes, this is hard to identify. Tweetbot, on the other hand, attaches a badge at the top right corner of the tweet to indicate the first unread tweet. There is simply no way to mistake this tweet for others.

When viewing the details of a particular tweet in Tweetbot the marker for the first unread tweet is moved to the next tweet after the one viewed in detail.

In Echofon, it may happen that while displaying the details of a tweet new tweets arrive and this tends to confuse the client in terms of where to continue reading after going back to the timeline.

By moving the first unread marker Tweetbot avoids this issue very effectively. I like it and combined with the fact that Tweetbot is clearly superior to Echofon in terms of visual style and usability I have no issue with switching to Tweetbot immediately.

Unfortunately, this concludes the enthusiastic part of the experience. The results obtained from Twitterrific are solid, but admittedly slightly less encouraging. In particular, Twitterific for some reason constantly mistakes the number of unread tweets.

According to my experience, it will always indicate the number of unread Tweets in Twitterrific (as opposed to the number of really unread tweets) even if the marker for the first unread tweet is set far more to the top of the timeline. But OK, this can be tolerated as a minor glitch that may even be fixed in future versions.

One aspect of Twitterrific (that admittedly is only moderately related to the syncing ability) is the support for growl. When activated, Twitterrific will always pump all new tweets to growl even if I just flipped open my MacBook’s the lid after some time of sleep.

This results in multiple screens of growl notifications each indicating a single tweet. This does not make the slightest bit of sense. In this situation, I’d expect Twitterrific to let growl notify me of the number of unread tweets, not of each particular tweet.

And yet, the overall results obtained from this experiment make me at - least for the time being - continue to use the combination of Tweetbot and Twitterrific for reading my timeline.

Fact check:

  • Platforms (Tweetbot, Twitterrific): check
  • Style: check
  • Sync: check

Mission accomplished …

  1. In more than 90% of the cases sync is working really well. But is seems that there are some edge cases that confuses especially the iOS client to the point that it is unable to scroll to the first unread tweet.

  2. Gradients!