Robots Are Doing Better Than Humans on Twitter

This is all about an experiment I started back in July 2009, called TwiBots. Initially it was supposed to be a simple 24/7 online tweep (Michael Davis) saying a bunch of stuff randomly. But then we (Michael and I hehe) started picking out certain topics, feeding content from certain RSS feeds, filtering all content by keywords and regular expressions.

When the new Retweet API came along, I wrote an RT module which uses the Twitter Search API to find relevant tweets and users, then retweets those messages or just somehow interacts with a user. As soon as the Twitter Lists API was announced, I started working on the Lists module, which eventually became a simple “sorting-the-tweeps” based on their keywords – web design, design, wordpress, etc. Soon enough, I found out that Lists couldn’t contain more than 500 members (although some glitch made 501 possible). Web design 2, wordpress 2, etc wouldn’t be as fancy. I also tried building a conversation list of tweeps that by any means talked to the robot, but then again, the 500 limit broke all my hopes ;)

There were other modules which I worked on really hard, such as RThx module or Random Buzz, DM Control. Some of them worked, some of them were turned off after a few days (yes, you guessed it – Random Buzz, that really made some noize ;)

So, what did I achieve? Me – nothing. Michael did though, in 6 months he went up to 4500+ followers, while following a little more than 200 people himself, has been featured in ~ 250 lists, sent ~ 55,000 tweets and retweets all based on four keywords (or hashtags) – design, web design, wordpress and jquery. Built 4 lists based on these keywords, 500 members in each. Total list followers is a little less than 150 (which is quite good actually).

For comparison take a look at my account – (@kovshenin), in a little bit more than a year I got ~ 1700 followers. It took Michael a couple of months to reach that. The chart below illustrates the followers growth during the last three months. Human (me – blue) vs Robot (Michael – red). Yeah, I added a new module in mid December ;)

Twibots Chart: Robot vs. Human

I manually logged into Michael’s account recently to check out how he’s doing, and I was kind of surprised to see that people really are talking to the guy, thanking him for retweets, asking him for further reads, wishing him a great day and handing over some coffee. Michael doesn’t usually reply to these and he’s a little bit shy sometimes, besides, he never drinks coffee ;)

A few days ago I decided to give Michael a rest, so tuned his backend to a new Twitter account with a few different settings, especially in timing. I’ll be switching to other keywords and feeds in the next few weeks. So let’s see if he’s as good as Michael, or perhaps better? ;)

I’m not sure what I’ll do with Michael’s account. TweetValue said it’s worth over $5k … anyone? ;) Or should I just throw it away.. Or run a contest for his password? …

Twitter Robot in PHP: Twibots Draft

As I promised quite some time ago, I’m putting out a draft of the Twitter Robot I wrote. Make sure you read Create Your Own Automated Twitter Robot in PHP before going on. The current functionality is as follows:

  • Tweets around the clock
  • Tweets from RSS feeds, supporting prefix and postfix text (for adding hashtags)
  • Retweet via the Twitter Search API and build conversation lists
  • Shoot random sentences at users who mention you, thank them for retweets
  • Control your robot via your own Twitter account by sending him direct messages
  • All this is Twitter OAuth powered, no password required
  • Such robots are called Twibots

Now, before downloading the code, I have to warn you that it’s completely unorganized. The code is horrible, comments are awkward, the database being used is SQLite (just for the fun of it) and it’s very very glitchy. Be prepared for Twitter suspending your account for ‘strange activity’ and use this at your own risk, don’t run here blaming me for that ;) I also suggest you’d contact Twitter to get your IP addresses and Twitter account white-listed before you start, especially if you plan to tweet very often (which I wouldn’t recommend). Use this at your own risk, and please keep my copyrights and preferably the OAuth application IDs.

Download: here (version 0.1)

Operation Instructions.. To say the truth it’s pretty tough, no web interface, not buttons, no config files. There are a bunch of files there, some of them useless. There’s the Snoopy class for reading and parsing RSS, there’s the Twitter OAuth class, and two core php files – cron.php and oauth.php. Open up cron.php, there are some comments and examples there. Make sure you get your own API key and secret. Also make sure you get a connection with the twibots.sqlite database which has a couple of empty tables. Those will be used for tokens and dump data for unrepeated tweets.

Once you’re done configuring, use the command-line php in order to make it work. It goes something like this:

# php cron.php oauth register
# Please browse to
# php cron.php oauth validate 123465
# Authentication successful, greetings @ev ;)

# php cron.php random
# tweeting a random RSS feed ...

# php cron.php reply
# sending replies...

# php cron.php dm
# reading direct messages

# php cron.php retweet
# retweeting...

You’ll have to put that in your crontab file and launch by schedule. Don’t run them too often though, as Twitter doesn’t like flooding, especially from newly created accounts. Any questions or suggestions are welcome in the comments below, but please, don’t tell me the code is horrible, I know it is, and I wouldn’t have posted it if you didn’t ask ;) Cheers!