Web applications and their desktop clients.

# cloudOnce a social web application gains popularity the developers invariably look to create client applications for use on our desktops to make the data more convenient to access and use but is this really the case?

Twitter has a plethora of client applications for Mac, PC and mobile including the likes of Twhirl, Witty and Twitteriffic, and now FriendFeed has the unusually named Alert Thingy. Does these applications make it easier to use the services they hook in to? Some claim that the applications are indispensable but I have personally never found them as useful as the native cloud based application - I hope to explain why.

The native page

Perhaps it is just the way that I work but I find the data in social media services easier to work with on the native website that I do in a client application for a number of reasons:

  • everything is in its native form and you are not trying to fit a lot of data in to a small client
  • you can browse it at your leisure
  • you can avoid the distraction of a client app beeping at you every couple of minutes
  • the web app is better at dealing with larger quantities of information

I am not someone who works on the same PC at the same desk all the time so only use social media services when I am settled and have the time to do so. In fact, many of the sites I have worked at block the likes of Twitter under their Instant Messaging firewall policy. This leads me to have a larger set of data to look at when I do use the service.

Trying to handle a large amount of data in a client application is virtually impossible. For example, whilst checking out Alert Thingy I left it to run through a few update cycles and was immediately lost - so many comments had come through that data was dropping off the bottom thus needing me to actually visit the website in order to read the bits I had missed. The same situation happens with the various Twitter clients I have used.

Attention seeking

juggling Client applications may be able to deliver you the information almost straight away but they are constantly demanding your attention leaving you in a constant state of partial attention. With a couple of applications open, an IM client and your email there is little hope that you will keep up to date with everything or be able to concentrate sufficiently on what you should be doing.

You may say that, just as with a web browser, you can close the client application if it is a distraction and go back to it later but I feel that this negates the need for it. It is supposed to be delivering you up to date content rather than being used to dip in to. This can be done just as easily via the original web page.


Corvida of SheGeeks replied on Twitter that she doesn't "like having so many tabs open in Firefox and most sites won't auto-refresh for updates" - a good point but what is the trade off between clutter in a browser and clutter on your desktop? With numerous applications all vying for both our attention and space on our screens how long before things get unwieldy?

Your take

Perhaps it is just the way that I use both computers and social media services that I just can't use client applications successfully so I ask you: which do you prefer - the native site or the desktop client and why?

  1. Corvida says: #
    You're absolutely right when you mention that you still have to rely on the website at some point. As far as the trade off. I'm never running a million things at once on my desktop. I'm running Firefox, Twhirl and Windows Live Writer right now. That's it and eventually I'll close WLW. Twhirl and FF are about the only things that stay open and occasionally Google Talk, but that sits in my system tray most of the time. No trade off for me. I'm not a desktop app junkie and I'll be the first to admit that I'd rather run it on the web. However, for services that I like to stay up-to-date on, I'd rather run it on my desktop.

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