Thoughts, links, pictures on music, food, wine, film, tech etc.


I coded some of this:

Using Twitter's API to sort friends / followers alphabetically

One of the reasons I set up this tumble-loggy blog, rather than stick with a regular blog, was so that I could share little snippets of code every so often, related to the stuff I was working on.

That's why I was delighted when Jon Crawford (NewMonarch) on Twitter asked me this:

I need to grab a Twitter user’s followers on the fly. As you probably know, the friends list isn’t returned in alphabetical order. Instead it’s returned in the order of which you started following the user, 100 results as a time. I’d prefer that the results were returned in alphabetical order by screen_name.

I like this kind of request, because it's one I know the answers to!

Since the beginning, Twitter has provided friends / followers methods for getting a list of a Twitter user's friends or followers. These methods have been damned to hell though, because they only report back 100 users at a time. Worse, they send back all manner of extra data, such as the latest tweet and in depth profile information. This meant for a lot of wasteful traffic back and forth to the API, and crucially lots of requests, eating up your API limit.

This was a particular bone of contention for an app like Qwitter. For someone like Gary Vaynerchuk for example, with tens of thousands of followers, we'd have to make hundreds of requests to the api just to get a list of Twitter follower IDs. A fun programming exercise, no doubt, but seriously inefficient.

At the beginning of February, Twitter released two methods that mark a change in the game for Twitter API developers: their social graph methods

Essentially, these methods let you download an entire friends list or followers list in a single API call:

curl http://twitter.com/friends/ids.xml?user_id=1401881

It just returns a list of IDs, but it's massively more efficient than making lots and lots of calls to the API, particularly for Qwitter.

For Jon Crawford's problem, it marks the beginnings of a solution. Because Qwitter compares the differences in two lists of IDs, we don't rely on associating usernames with IDs.

Here's a script that returns an array of friends sorted in alphabetical order. I've used John Nunemaker's excellent Twitter gem.

The big problem with this script is that it's actually more inefficient than paging through 100 followers at a time, as it makes one API request per user. Perhaps for the first run of a user, something like this would be better:

Then keep a cache of usernames and associate them later. It all really depends on your needs.

Made by Paul Campbell. paul@rushedsunlight.com. Twitter. Github.