If you want to keep up with your friends, support political campaigns, gossip about your favorite celebrities or find out about new technologies, your best bet in today's digital culture is Twitter. Twitter has also become a necessary part of every business's marketing plan. You want people to visit your Web site? Buy your product? Talk about your CEO's philosophy? You need to be tweeting about it.
In short, Twitter has become a key part of our social interaction. Unfortunately, Twitter Inc.'s own site is a marvel of inconvenient simplicity -- there are loads of things that you want to do with the service that are difficult or impossible to do from there. For example, the idea of retweeting -- repeating somebody else's tweet so your followers can read it -- developed from something that Twitters fans began doing; it wasn't an actual feature on the Twitter site.
So what do you do? Well, if you're like most Twitter users, you do your tweeting from a Twitter client, a third-party application that takes care of all of it for you.
I looked at eight popular desktop Twitter clients. Some are Web-based; three (Mixero, Seesmic and TweetDeck) are desktop applications that use the Adobe AIR runtime software. All are usable on both Windows PCs and Macs; all are free.
These applications vary widely in their approach. Five of these apps try to make tweeting easier while adding additional features (and allowing users to interact with other services, such as Facebook). The other three -- TweetGrid, TwitScoop, and Twitterfall -- offer a different view; while they do give users the ability to do simple things such as search, their main purpose is to help people sort out what's happening in the wider Twitterverse rather than monitor only what's going on with their friends and followers.
Of course, these aren't the only Twitter-related applications out there. For example, there's a Twitter client called Tweetie that's available for the Mac and the iPhone (but not the PC). Web apps such as TweepTracker help you find out how many of the people you follow aren't following you, and vice versa. Twitterholic.com calculates who the folks are who have the most followers.
If you tend to tweet on the go, don't worry -- several of the desktop clients reviewed here also have iPhone versions available or upcoming, and there are a bunch of Twitter apps available for other smartphone platforms. For example, there's TwitterBerry and TweetCaster for the Blackberry, and PockeTwit and Twikini for Windows Mobile.
In fact, you can find a very long list of Twitter-related apps at the Twitter Fan Wiki.
If you don't have the time or inclination to wade through that list, you could start by considering one of the following eight applications. Which is best for you will depend on how you use Twitter -- and how you would like to use it.