Did you catch my little rant about HootSuite’s outage over the weekend? It wasn’t pretty. Nevertheless, I still think that it was justified. Easter or no, if you’re running a web business, especially a popular one, it is inconceivable that you don’t have anyone on duty in case something goes wrong. Still, the outage did provide me the opportunity to explore what alternatives might be available, and what follows is a brief round-up of the applications that I spent the most time playing with.
The only desktop app I considered was MahTweets*, which has come on leaps and bounds since I reviewed it as Freeware of the Week. The range of plugins has been expanded to include a wider range of social networks, and along with all of the features I listed before, you can now also view pictures in the program, wihtout having to click through to Twitpic or Flickr. Not only that, but they have also hadded the search columns I had asked for! I don’t know if it’s because I’m using a different machine from the one I did my original review with, but MahTweets also seems to run faster than it did. And once again, the fact that it doesn’t need Adobe Air means that I think MahTweets knocks Tweetdeck into a cocked hat. You want to take control of your social media? Get this.
Up next were the web apps, which I thought was only fair as they would be the closest competitors to HootSuite.
I dabbled with Tweet3 when I was first looking for a multi-account Twitter solution, but had abandoned it once I discovered HootSuite. All of my settings were still there, set up just the way I liked them, but I noticed that the interface seemed more like Tweetdeck than I remembered. There are now also trending topics at the bottom of the screen. Tweet3 allows you to configure colums, but the process is a little fiddly, and not quite as free and easy as HootSuite, and it does seem awfully limited in terms of what you can do. It was a little frustrating, especially as there wasn’t a Help or How To section in evidence. What finally drove me away from Tweet3 in despair, however, was the updating, which is manual. New tweets have to be summoned with this app, they don’t come to you. At first I thought the updating might just be slow, but knowing how many tweets I usually see in the course of an hour, it eventually dawned on me that Tweet3 just doesn’t do what the average user would expect a Twitter app to do. So, it had to be dumped.
The only niggle I have with MahTweets, and which I wasn’t particularly surprised about with Tweet3, was the lack of a facility to schedule tweets for a later time. Had HootSuite gone down during the week, this would have been a crucial consideration for me. I cannot be hanging around, checking my clock every couple of minutes and keeping multiple tags open to make sure I can find them when it is next time for me to tweet. I needed to find something that supported not only multiple accounts, but scheduling too.
The last time I had used it, SocialOomph was known as TweetLater. It’s changed quite a bit since then. Previously just a simple tool for scheduling tweets for multiple accounts, it is now touting itself as a productivity suite for Twitter, Facebook, blogs and more. I have to say, I’m not sure if I like the changes very much. I’m on a free account, as I don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with a professional account, and I don’t know if the layout is part of this deal or if everyone has to put up with it. It is a mess. The site’s navigation isn’t intuitive, it took me forever to set something up, and most unforgiveable of all, I couldn’t read any of my Twitter feeds. Don’t get me wrong, the scheduling options work, and multiple accounts are supported, but SocialOomph is really only for those who are setting up tweets to send on, or who want a degree of automation with their Twitter accounts. If you actually want to read replies to anything you might tweet, this site is not for you.
Next up was MediaFunnel, which is still in beta, but which seemed like it might be interesting. I immediately felt at home, as the layout was similar to HootSuite, with tabs for each of my Twitter accounts, set off nicely by a side panel with various options available. True, I couldn’t configure columns the way I wanted to, and it does seem designed more for teams of people rather than one slightly fussy individual, but that was OK, because I could use my bit.ly API key to track clickthroughs on my tweets! I could set up alrerts to email or text me whenever certain events happened! There is even a nifty “Hold” and “Review” option for administrators to read over tweets before scheduling them or sending them out. Tweets can also be assigned to be followed up later, and there is even a tagging system to group similar tweets together. And yet… MediaFunnel suffers from the same problems as Tweet3, namely that it doesn’t seem to update Twitter streams automatically. In addition, despite the tabbed interface, there isn’t the freedom to configure columns as you please and there is no option for lists or groups. This could be something that MediaFunnel is working on before the app is out of beta, but although I found it enjoyable enough to use, I still wasn’t happy. Nevertheless, I have made a note to check out MediaFunnel again in the future.
Finally, looking at another app designed for multiple users, I came across CoTweet. By this stage, I was snappy and impatient, having spent the better part of the day registering for and testing new apps, revisiting old ones, and finding them all wanting. CoTweet calmed me. It didn’t look very promising at first, but I added my accounts and put it through its paces. Each account had a little avatar at the top of the page, so that was similar to tabs, I suppose. There was tweet scheduling too, which was reassuring. Like MediaFunnel, tweets could be assigned to different users to be followed up. If that had been all, I’d have been whining about the lack of pick-n-mix column options that I like so much in HootSuite, and griping that I was only allowed five Twitter accounts at a time. But I was won over by the inbox in the sidebar, where I could view @ replies and direct messages for each account, or simply read the account’s stream. I could also start new lists, save searches and archive tweets. Unlike MediaFunnel, CoTweet does update automatically, so I didn’t need to keep hitting the refresh icon to get new tweets, and if I noticed an unfamiliar username I could pull up their profile quickly and decide whether to follow them or not without having to visit Twitter itself. Despite being cranky, I actually passed a few quiet hours on CoTweet, to the extent that I wondered if I should tone down my earlier post on the HootSuite outage. In the end I didn’t, but by the time HootSuite had recovered from its problems I was in a slightly more forgiving mood.
I reviewed all these apps while incredibly angry. Angry that my routine had been disrupted, and even angrier that there was no explanation for why HootSuite wasn’t working, or word on when it might return. Even so, I did my best to give each app a fair crack of the whip and tried to find the good in them even as I railed against all the absence of all the goodies to which I’ve become accustomed. At the end of the day, like a kicked puppy that doesn’t know any better, I’m back using HootSuite. The next time it falls off its internet perch, however, I’ll be ready. MahTweets and CoTweet will help me tweet through the rage.
* Note: MahTweets installation consists of two parts: a small executable to make sure your PC is ready for installation, and a second download to install the actually program. Some people have been having issues with downloading the larger file. I’m not sure if this is a connection problem at the user end or a bug at the host. Either way, it may take more than one go to complete the install.