Saturday, 9 January 2010

Creating Twitter Mashups

Using Free Online Tools to Create Twitter Mashups

If you are into Twitter then you may have wanted at some time to automate some tweets. There are many reasons you may want to do this such as creating new content quickly or providing an online presence when your not physically around. You may want to follow certain hash tags and retweet the same post with new hash tags or you may want to auto retweet relevant messages from certain friends or lists. Whatever reason you require this feature for you are not alone and there are already many tools out there that you can purchase to provide this functionality.

If however you don't want to spend any money and want to learn the necessary skills to do the job yourself then there are also many ways to accomplish this quickly. I managed to create an automated tweetbot within an hour tonight that follows a series of search terms as well as retweeting certain friends messages. It was very easy to do and I didn't have to write one line of code to get it working.

The aim of the Tweetbot was simple. I wanted content for a new Twitter account and I wanted to drive users to a site without having to manually write lots of Twitter updates. The updates I do write I wanted to retweet with new hash tags as well as retweeting certain relevant posts from friends.

By creating this Tweetbot I am delivering my earlier posts to a new audience who maybe following different hash tags as well as driving new users to my site by retweeting other related tweets automatically. I will see how this method works in terms of generating traffic over time but from a development point of view it was quite simple to set up.

1. Create a Yahoo Account if you haven't already got one.

2. Create a Twitter Account if you haven't already got one.

3. Find your source data which in my case was a mixture of Twitter RSS feeds. If you want to access a feed relevant to search terms then you can use the search.twitter.com interface. For example the following RSS is for the search term Javascript:

4. To combine the input feeds, analyse the content and reformat them into one output feed we are going to a great on-line tool called Yahoo Pipes. This free tool allows you to do lots of cool operations on various forms of input data with a drag n drop interface. You do this by creating a visual flow diagram with multiple steps going from your input source which can be one or more feeds through various filters and then to the pipe output. Each filter can be set to look for terms within the posts e.g you may want to only include posts that mention the word "javascript" or "SQL" in the title or the content. Or you may want to only include the post if it doesn't mention certain words or terms. You can do quite complex operations including using regular expressions to reformat the content, sort operations and clean-ups to remove duplicate content. The following article explains it quite well:


4. Once your pipe is saved you will be able to access it in RSS format from the supplied URL.

5. To get this data into your Twitter account you can either use the Twitter API and write your own code to parse the feed on a timed interval and add the posts to your twitter account e.g by using a CRON job that runs a Perl, PHP, VBScript:


6. Or you could do what I did which is use one of the free Twitter feed applications that are available on the web such as twitterfeed.com. They obviously do something similar to point 5 in that you specify the RSS feed you want to import (e.g your Yahoo Pipe RSS feed) and set some configuration options such as the Twitter account details, number of items to parse, extra content to add to the posts etc.

The only downside with using twitterfeed.com is that the job only runs every half an hour which may not be a small enough interval for you. They obviously have a CRON job that runs every 20 minutes or so and parses all the feeds setup through the application so its not surprising that they cannot offer a smaller timescale however this does prevent you from over tweeting.

There are other apps out there and it would be quite simple to create your own Twitter app if you so wished with very little script, a timed job and the relevant input files.

I managed to create my PIPE within an hour and it had some quite complex content parsing and reformatting functionality so I was surprised at how easily I could do what I wanted without resorting to writing my own code. Try it yourself.

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