Should you be using Seesmic Desktop 2?

Seesmic Desktop 2 (SD2) is the new social media client on the block. It professes to be a desktop client from which “you can engage with various social media channels and accounts with power and ease”. This article will look at three main areas of functionality to judge if it lives up to its promise.

The Main Feeds Interface
On first impressions the interface appears slick and minimal. Three tabs divide the functionality within the app into ‘All’, ‘Accounts’ and ‘Userlists’. Each of these tabs can be populated with the now expected social media feed columns, and there is a lot of flexibility in terms of the kinds of columns you can have.

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In addition to the main feeds for Tweets and Facebook status updates, you can easily set a column for a particular trending topic on Twitter for the day, LinkedIn job posts or friends’ Foursquare check-ins for example. One Facebook specific feature which is useful is the ability to view a feed of only links shared by your friends, or just videos, or just photos.

One important aspect of the main feeds interface that undermines good usability is the apparent redundancy of the three main tabs. Everything available on the ‘Accounts’ tab and the ‘Userlists’ tab is also available on the ‘All’ tab. The sidebar menus are laid out in exactly the same way, with the only difference being that there is more available on the ‘All’ tab (e.g. you can view a column with updates or direct messages across all your accounts).

The value of having different tabs with the same features could be revealed if you find a need for different collections of columns in each tab, but as it stands there is no real reason to use the ‘Accounts’ tab or the ‘Userlists’ tabs, unless you don’t want to scroll laterally through lots of columns on the ‘All’ tab. A better solution might be to allow multiple tabs, each of which have the same functionality, and each of which the user can name. In this scenario the user would create value in each tab, relevant to what groupings of social media feeds they find most useful.

The Status Update Interface
Positioned at the top of the application window, the status update interface packs a significant number of features into a pretty small area. It manages to do this efficiently, keeping things looking neat and compact whilst still being usable. ‘Posts’ are restricted to 140 characters, and can be pushed onto any combination of accounts that are synced to SD2. A clear active/inactive button interface controls and signals which accounts a post will be sent to.

If you run multiple Facebook fan pages you can easily select the walls of which pages you want the update to post to. The status update interface also includes a URL shortener (you can choose which one you would like to use), an image inserter (once again you can choose to use services like TwitPic or Pixi, and easily upload from your hard drive or from a URL), and even a translation service and integration of Twitlonger.

For someone who is very active on a range of social media services, the kind of power that is afforded by the SD2 status update bar will be very welcome. A typical agency social media campaign manager might be running campaigns for four different clients, each of which have a Twitter presence, a Facebook fan page and perhaps a LinkedIn profile. The SD2 status update bar can cope with this scenario effiectively, including the posting of different types of content without too much of a learning curve.

The Plugins
Apparently everyone has a marketplace these days, and Seesmic Desktop is no different. Seesmic has chosen to structure its app so that external developers and companies can create plugins which users can acquire from the plugin marketplace (seemingly all free so far). Getting hold of additional plugins is a breeze, but there are pros and cons from a usability perspective. Allowing a fairly wide variety of plugins means losing grip on controlling user experience. There is, for example, a Google Reader plugin, which on the face of it could be a valuable edition to a Social Media feed application. It installs easily, but once you add a Google Reader column it is immediately obvious that this kind of content does not really work that well in the thinner column layout that suits Twitter and Facebook updates.

Of course the column is ultimately just a collection of links, each of which must be opened in a browser – this in some ways defeats the purpose of the RSS feed/RSS reader combination, part of the beauty of which lies in being able to read all of your favourite content in one place.

Overall SD2 is pretty darn good. Importantly, it’s free and the ads that are used to support it are very unobtrusive (about the size of a postage stamp in the lower left corner). Visually the interface is slick and pleasingly animated. There are definitely a few areas in which Seesmic could improve the user experience, but generally I give Seesmic Desktop 2 (and especially the status update interface) a more than moderately enthusiastic thumbs up.

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