A Twitter client is perhaps the most important tool any Twitter user can have. There are many different types of Twitter management tools.
The most useful by far is called a Twitter client or dashboard. It is designed to replace Twitter's simple one-column Web display of tweets with more powerful ways of reading, sending and managing tweets.
One difference among the various Twitter client and dashboard programs is whether they require separate software to be downloaded and installed on your computer or they run directly through your Web browser and therefore require no downloads. The two categories are called desktop apps or Web-based apps.
Another difference is whether they help you manage other social networks or social media services besides Twitter, and how many.
Increasingly, Twitter is making changes to its own site to make its Web interface more useful, but the Twitter homepage is still not as powerful as the top independent Twitter clients.
The Five Best Twitter Client Tools/Apps:
TweetDeck is one of the two most popular free programs for managing Twitter timelines. It was so popular that Twitter bought it in May 2011 and has said it will continue to develop it as a Twitter client.
TweetDeck lets you set up different groups of people to follow and displays all your tweet feeds or streams in rows of columns so you can scan a lot of tweets at once.
The Twitter homepage on the Web only shows one column of tweets, which makes for a slower reading experience. That's a big reason many people top for using an independent Twitter client rather than the Twitter homepage as their main tweet-management view.
TweetDeck also lets you save keyword searches and view them in one of your many column displays. In the other columns, you can see tweet streams from the groups of particular Twitter users you have set up, tweets containing particular hashtags you want to follow, or feeds from other Twitter accounts you may have set up for different purposes.
TweetDeck requires a free software download. It works with most major mobile phone operating systems, too.
Along with TweetDeck, HootSuite is one of the top two free clients for managing Twitter.
Unlike TweetDeck, HootSuite requires no software download because it is a Web-based Twitter client, meaning it runs entirely on the Web through whatever Web browser you use.
Like TweetDeck, HootSuite displays all the tweets you've subscribed to in columns for quick scanning. This quick-view function of Twitter dashboards is one of the main values these programs offer, allowing you to see many more tweet streams all at once and interact with them in more powerful ways.
As with most Twitter clients or dashboards, you can retweet, reply, direct message, follow or unfollow from dropdown menus or icons alongside any tweet. Twitter for years didn't allow this on its Webpage, but in late 2011, Twitter began testing a new tweet timeline interface that replicates many of these bells and whistles offered by independent Twitter clients.
One of the best things about Hootsuite is that it can manage much more than your Twitter timelines. From the same dashboard window, Hootsuite also can manage your feeds and profiles at Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks. So Hootsuite is more of a social media client than just a Twitter client.
HootSuite's basic service is free, but it also offers premium monthly subscriptions for people who want to have a variety of people managing the same or multiple social media accounts.
Twhirl is another popular free Twitter client with a dashboard to manage your tweets. It helps you simultaneously manage more than one Twitter account through multiple windows.
Twhirl is powered by the Adobe AIR platform so it requires that you have Adobe's AIR software installed on your computer in order to download and install Twhirl's software. It works on both Windows and Macintosh computers.
Its many features include shortening long URLs and cross-posting your tweets to other social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.
Twhirl connects to various image and video services, which makes it easier to streamline the posting of images and videos on Twitter. It uses yfrog for photos, for example, and Seesmic for video. Seesmic Inc. bought Twhirl in 2008, so the two services have been closely integrated.
Twitterific is a Twitter dashboard service that is optimized for Mac computers and Apple mobile devices. It is particularly good at managing tweets on iPhones and iPads.
Its tag line explains its name, "making Twitter extra terrific," but whether it delivers is a matter of personal preference.
The mobile version is free, as is the ad-supported desktop software.
For $9.95 (as of November 2011) you can download a version of Twitterific that removes all the ads.
Seesmic is another highly popular client for managing not only Twitter feeds, but also feeds from other social networks such as Facebook, FourSquare and and LinkedIn.
Seesmic is a free service with a relatively simple interface. It is available as both a Web-based app, which is handy if you want to access your client from different computers, and a desktop software application, which provides more firepower.
Seesmic is known for ease of use, which has made it one of the most popular ways to manage your Twitter timelines.