Well-Nigh Twitter

I still haven’t seen a Twitter client that has everything I want. The current list:

#1: Stylishness. Can’t describe it exactly, but I’ll know it when I see it. Spareness over busy-ness, minimal color palette over lots of colors, clear visual flow over chaos.
Winners: Birdfeed (R.I.P.), Itsy, Hibari
Losers: Twitterific (I was surprised at how bad it looked to me), Echofon, Twitter for iPhone

#2: Inline, Full-Sized, Pre-Fetched Images. I love this about Itsy, but nobody else has it. Pre-fetched means I can cache my tweets at home and take my iPod touch out and read them later and still see the images, but since no iOS client has this yet, so far it’s a moot point.
Winners: Itsy
Losers: Everyone else, that I know of. Hibari has inline images, but only thumbnails, which is not a useful compromise for me.

#3: No Command Line. Any client where I have to type “d” in the same field I would normally type a regular message in order to do a Direct Message has let me down, in my opinion. If I wanted a command line, I’d use a command line! Apps are supposed to help me. I don’t want to accidentally send a direct message to everyone because my client has decided it’s My Problem.
Winners: Twitter website, especially for giving me a dedicated UI and a dropdown.
Losers: Everyone else. Even Birdfeed failed at this by requiring me to type in the username, with no type-ahead. Typing the exact username with the clunky iPhone keyboard? That’s My Problem, apparently.

#4: Seamless Link Following. Is it a hassle to open a link? This is entirely an iOS problem, since switching between apps is expected and trivial on Mac OS X, and so any link better send me to Safari.
And yes, basically embedding a full-scale browsing experience in my Twitter app sort of contradicts the minimalism of #1, but there you go: this is important enough to do so.
Winners: Of the apps I’ve tried, Echofon and Twitter for iPad do this the best. I can follow links within the web pages without leaving the app, thus preserving my twitter stream context.
Losers: Of the apps I tried, Birdfeed: loading web pages in-app was slow and often cumbersome, and following links within the page I believe sent me to Mobile Safari.

Twitter for iPad is an interesting exception. It’s certainly not spare, but it does retain enough of a style sense to barely fulfill #1. No inline images, so it fails #2, but having a roomy enough UI, with enough context-saving, so that it’s easy to return to the twitter stream after seeing the image, is almost a satisfactory workaround. Regarding #3, you might be able to use “d” in the standard input field to send a DM, but it’s not documented in the regular UI, and otherwise you need to look at someone’s profile to find UI to initiate a DM to that person. That’s bad, but at least then it’s custom UI! And it fulfills #4 completely.

More generally, the larger UI, and the emphasis on a kind of breadcrumbs-based workflow, really appeals to me. I have my annoyances with it, but if I had to choose, I’d choose its flamboyance over the minimalism of Itsy, which is otherwise my favorite Twitter client.

I’m looking forward to the new Twitter website UI.

Readers, Not Platforms

I like a lot of things about electronic books, but I dislike a lot of things about them as well.

I’m late to the party as far as electronic books go. I’ve certainly been thinking about it.

I like the idea of reading my books, over the years, on a series of ever-lighter, ever-more useful reading devices. 1,000 books in your pocket? Sign me up! (I don’t, for the most part, need to feel the pages between my fingers. I want to read the words!) I like the idea of multimedia add-ons. (Imagine seeing pins in a map representing all the locations mentioned in all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. When was Klatch first mentioned?) I like the idea of reading while eating and not worrying about spilling something on the paper. I like the idea having my books backed up offsite, so a fire in my house won’t destroy my library.

There are many upsides. But there are also quite a few downsides.

What if book readers become a fragmented market? What if I can’t buy a reader that will read all my books, I need to buy two…or three? And what if the features I want are also distributed between devices? Sure, Kindle is available on Apple’s platforms, but iBooks aren’t available on the Kindle. (Are they?) What if the platforms I’ve bought books for remain closed and stagnant, so the kind of whiz-bang features I describe above are never developed for them, and I have to buy my books again to obtain them? What if nobody supports the formats I’ve purchased in 30 years?

You know what I really want? I want all those wonderfully aggressive and competitive companies to be competing on readers, not platforms. I want, when I buy a book, to be buying just the bits of the information, and that’s all. And any number of clever, resourceful companies could then compete on how to present them to me, how to index them, what wonderful multimedia add-ons they could create for them.

Which almost certainly means stripping DRM.

Until that happens (and it very likely never will), I’m going to be very justifiably cautious about my electronic book purchases.