Seesmic, popular creators of the Seesmic Desktop and Seesmic (for Windows) Twitter utilities, have partnered up with Microsoft to unleash a new way to browse the real-time Web. Don't roll your eyes just yet: I realize there are just about as many different ways to engage Twitter from a computer as there are tweets to track. I, too, was skeptical upon downloading the company's new Seesmic Look client. These fears didn't last long. It's clear that Seesmic has really put its time into a thorough analysis of the existing market, because there simply aren't any other Twitter clients that look quite like, well, Look.
You'll be surprised by the app's artistic interactivity when you first load it up. It's a big separation from the typical Twitter client layout, which is often some Adobe Air-based program filled with columns or floating windows. There's still a lot of floating going on in Look, but it's done more like a screensaver than a rigid information display. When you're using Look's "Playback" mode--one of three different interactive layers to choose from--new messages in the Twittersphere fade in and out of existence alongside giant, pulsating, transparent circles. The Timeline and Alphabetical features are just that--huge boxes of your Twitter friends' thoughts that are easily scrolled through via a standard mouse wheel or "I'm going to click a lot" technique.
One of Look's more unique features--and one that should be replicated in every Twitter client from now until the death of the service-- is its snarky, yet useful commentary regarding the day's most popular hash-tags or subjects. For the uninformed, hash tags are a way for users to categorize posts throughout the Twitter service. If you and I are both making commentary about how awesome Nathan Edwards is, we could simply offer up our thoughts and append #nathanrobot to the end. Thus, we now have an easy way to track all related posts throughout Twitter even if said posts don't directly reference a subject or name.
Anyway, clicking on the easily accessible "Trends" category on Look's left-hand table of contents pulls up a list of the most popular twitter topics of the present-time, of the day, or of the week. If you have no idea what "Follow Friday" or "Danny" refers to, just hover your mouse over the word. A handy little description appears to give you a bit more insight on what all these people are Tweetin' about.
Other than that, there are categories for Tweets you've marked as favorites, chunks of Tweets organized by predefined interests, Twitter channels based on popular brands or Internet presences (what, oh what does Red Bull's twitter have to say today!), and the usual laundry list of past searches you've made in the program. You can organize your friends by lists (that aren't linked to Twitter lists, mind you) to better keep separate Twitt... Twittizens you care about versus less helpful contributors. That's a lot of organization wrapped around Look's beautiful interface--but what is this app missing?
For starters, there aren't really any configuration options at all beyond the opportunity to select the Dark or Light version of Look's skin. The app has essentially locked you into its interface--frankly, I'd love the ability to be able to minimize the size of the large Tweet boxes in order to fit more onto the screen. You also can't select which Twitter-themed service you want to use for various add-ons like link shortening and what-have-you, as Look defaults to the TinyURL service for such things. Most frustrating, Look doesn't auto-complete a Twitter follower's name when addressing them a message. That's not quite as big a deal when you're replying to someone based on a message they've previously Tweeted, but it makes it difficult and annoying to reference someone out of the blue.
Oh, and Look places all new tweets on your timeline above the one you're currently viewing. Since the app doesn't automatically scroll to the top when new Tweets come in, you have to constantly grab your mouse and shuffle around your messages just to catch whatever's new. For a program that's as into the user interface as Look, you'd think there would be a better way to set-it-and-forget-it that isn't just the app's tweet-repeating Playback mode. The interface is big enough to see from an adjacent room, but there's just not a good way to let this program run on a laptop or computer without your constant input.
These criticisms aside, Look is still an awesome platform for interacting with Twitter in a more engaging, eye-catching manner. It's not the best Twitter client from a usability standpoint, but here's hoping that its omissions get fixed in subsequent revisions. It would be a shame for Look's powerful aesthetic to fade away because the software just isn't as practical as it could be for good ol' Twitter.