Twitterless and the New Notification System

November 5, 2008

This week a new notification system was rolled out that admittedly is less convenient for Twitterless users than the old system.  The old system would notify users not only when people stopped following them, but it would also tell users who the followers were that dropped them, which is of course the whole point of Twitterless.  The new system only tells users how many people have stopped following them, but instead of saying who in the direct message it gives users a link to a page where they can run a checker to find out just that.

So why implement a system that is seemingly less useful than the original?  The answer can be summed up in one word: scalability.  From the start it was clear that given the nature of Twitter’s API and the sheer amount of data that must be parsed for each user every time their follower list is checked against that Twitterless’ biggest challenge would be scalability.  To date Twitterless has around 600 users, and with every new user the time it takes to notify people of dropped followers increases.  In fact, this is the main reason why Twitterless has been a closed beta – to keep numbers low while a system was created that could actually handle a larger load.

It turns out these fears were justified.  A competing site, useqwitter.com, does the exact same thing as Twitterless (only over email instead of direct message), and since being launched 2 weeks ago as an open beta has no doubt gained much more than 600 followers.  As a result, it took around 8-10 hours longer for useqwitter.com to notify users of dropped followers than Twitterless did with the old system.  Unless the folks at useqwitter.com buy more servers and throw more money at the problem, this discrepancy will only get worse.  There is no doubt that if Twitterless were taken out of closed beta with the old system, it would start to experience a similar slowdown.

By offloading the checking of followers to the users, Twitterless can now notify people about dropped followers within minutes.  Only users who choose to run the check will be taxing the system at any time.  Another problem that was facing Twitterless were users with followers numbering in the thousands.  Because people with that many followers are constantly losing and gaining followers, they were always getting placed in the queue to be checked while people with less followers would have to wait.  The new system will be more convenient for people with less followers because their checks will take much less time to run.  You would have to imagine that people with 2-3k followers start to care less and less about who is actually dropping them than how many are dropping them in a given moment.

Because people with thousands of followers will get a ton of DM’s due to the large volume of daily dropped followers, an option will be created for those users to receive DM’s on a set schedule, such as hourly or daily.  

So far there have been very few complaints about the new system, so it can be tentatively chalked up to a successful transition.  For those of you who are completely turned off, you should check out useqwitter.com if being told who dropped you in the message is more important than timeliness.  For those of you who stick with Twitterless, feedback about the new system is like gold and will help shape the system over the next few weeks, so leave it early and often.  

This also means that Twitterless is nearing the end of its “closed beta” status, so those of you who have been waiting for codes may not have to wait much longer anymore.  Thanks to everyone for understanding and keep sending that feedback!

New Twitterless Feature: Groups and Filters

October 27, 2008

After a few weeks of hard work, some new features have been (tentatively) rolled out for Twitterless:  groups and filters.

FILTERS:

Since Twitterless keeps a pretty up-to-date list of your followers, there’s a lot of interesting data to play around with.  It’s one thing to know how many people follow you but another thing entirely to find out who those people are.  This is what the aim of Twitterless filters is.  In the followers section of your Twitterless profile you will notice a variety of filtering options aimed at helping you parse and understand your follower base.  Right now you can filter by type of relationship (friends or follower), order by friend/follower ratio and alphabetically by name, and narrow followers down based on a keyword in their profile descriptions.  

Furthermore, a special search function allows you to search for terms in the tweets of all your followers.  

This is different than doing a broad search on search.twitter.com or tweetscan.com because it’s limited to just your followers.  

Find out what your followers think about an article you wrote or a hot topic while filtering out the noise of the general Twitter public.  Because these searches take a while to process, they are archived so you can refer back to them without having to run them again.  More filters will be added over time, so suggest any you wish existed and they will be implemented.

GROUPS:

There have been many requests out in the Twittersphere for an application that lets users create groups to help manage the high volume of tweets one receives at any given time, and Twitterless was uniquely positioned to provide this functionality because of the aforementioned follower updates.  With groups, you can create a group and add friends and followers to that group wherein their updates will be neatly contained.  You will notice a new “Groups” tab in your Twitterless profile.  From there, you can create a new group, go to your “Followers” tab, and begin selecting followers you want to add to that group.  That group will now be displayed in your groups section along with any other groups you create.  You can refresh groups individually or refresh them all at the same time.  

“Groups” is still very much in its early stages of development, but the basics are in place.  The more feedback given the better they will get, of course.  Because there is no straightforward way to grab the timelines of every group member the process of refreshing a group can take a long time (directly proportional to the number of members in the group). 

 It is well worth the wait, however, because you can see what your followers are saying whether or not you follow them back and you can organize your tweets into more digestible feeds based on any parameters you choose.  In fact, the filters discussed above directly contribute to the functionality of groups.  If you want to create a group that contains rails developers like myself, you could filter your followers and/or friends down based on the keyword “rails” and add them to a group called “Rails People”.  If you wanted to create a group that has only people with very few friends but many followers (popular/famous users), you could sort by ratio and add the first 10 or so resulting Twitterers.  

Groups will be receiving quite a few handy features over the next week and a lot of these will be heavily based on your feedback, so please post suggestions here or use the feedback form on twitterless.com (the link is in the footer).  Thanks to everyone who’s beta testing and a very special thanks to those who are providing feedback!

Twitterless No Longer Requires Twitter Passwords

October 20, 2008

Ever since Twitterless was first launched, the biggest failing was the requirement to store user’s Twitter account passwords.  The reason these passwords were required was because Twitter puts limits on the number of requests an IP address or Twitter account can make per hour.  Twitterless needs to make many more than 100 requests per hour to find dropped followers for people so the only way to get around this limitation was to make the requests using the authenticated account of the user it was currently checking.  In other words, the burden was distributed across many accounts.

The folks over at Twitter put these limits in check for a reason, most importantly to keep too many people who use the API from overloading the system (any more than it already is).  However, to help foster an active development commnity, Twitter will “whitelist” accounts for developers of Twitter-centric web applications they deem worthy.  I didn’t ask for Twitterless whitelisting status until recently because frankly I thought that the Twitter people may not accept an application that tells users when people stop following them.  As Twitterless grew in popularity, the number of grievances about password storing grew in kind, so I finally decided to request whitelist status despite the chance it may get rejected (or worse, blocked entirely).  

My fears were laid to rest last Friday when I discovered another service called Qwitter that also sends out notifications when followers drop people that actually had whitelisting status.  Not too long after that, whitelisting status was granted for Twitterless and the need for passwords was extinguished – yippee!  Existing users can go into their Twitterless accounts and change their password to something other than their Twitter password and rest easy that it has been erased.  

Now there are some drawbacks.  There are a few Twitterless features that still do require authentic Twitter passwords despite whitelist status, namely: address-bar-posting, auto-block, and auto-follow.  Because the number of people who actually take advantage of these features is very small so far, it isn’t a big deal, but for those of you who are using them you can still take advantage by leaving your actual Twitter password in the database.  The second drawback is that users with Twitter accounts that have been set to “private” will need to continue to supply their authentic Twitter password to Twitterless in order for the service to work for them because “private” also means “nobody, not even programs using the API, can access your information.”  If Twitterless can’t access your info it can’t find out who stops following you. 

So that’s the skinny.  Those of you who were worried about your passwords being stored by a service other than Twitter can now rest easy.  You can change that password in your settings and the new password will be what you use to access your Twitterless account from then on. Also, whitelisting will also allow me to implement some new an interesting features that wouldn’t have been possible without it, so stay tuned for those.  Thanks for trusting me with your passwords up to this point and helping test the application.

Twitter is Experiencing Strange Issues Right Now

September 25, 2008

In true Twitter form, they have run into some serious issues and some users (myself included) are being prompted for a username and password when trying to access twitter.com.  This problem has also affected Twitterless since none of the user accounts are authenticating correctly.  I’m sure this will get fixed soon, and it’s actually kind of serendipitous timing because it happened exactly as I was upgrading the Twitterless database, but I’m anxious to get the system running so that I can start sending out code like crazy.

So as soon as this bug is fixed I will run the new database through its paces and start getting more of you signed up!

100 Users and Still Going Strong

September 19, 2008

We’ve reached our first milestone here at Twitterless (if you use the decimal system, that is): 100 users have signed up as beta testers.  My biggest concern with Twitterless has been scalability.  Unlike other web applications, because Twitter apps depend so heavily on the Twitter API, the restrictions they place on requests can make it difficul to scale to a wide audience.

So far there have only been a few hitches in the service; a few people received notifications telling them that nearly all of their follower base had stopped following them to mention one.  However, I think the proper balance between promptness of alerts, accuracy of data, and scalability for the future has been struck.  At this point the barriers to scale have less to do with Twitter’s rate limit restrictions and more to do with the processing power of Twitter’s current server.  I feel confident that scaling will simply be a hardware issue.

Overall people seem to be pretty pleased with the service.  Others still find it depressing to be told when people stop following them.  The graph and timeline view are a big hit, while address bar posting and follower post searching don’t seem to have gained much traction.  Here are what some of our users have been saying:

“Have to say, I’m loving Twitterless http://twitterless.com”

“Uh-oh, just got a tweet from that twitterless app: “X stopped following you.” It seems to work again. And it is brutal.”

“Wonder how twitterless feels when you unfollow them? Does it hurt twitterless? DOES IT? Heh, kidding. I like life better not knowing, thx.”

trying out twitterless.com. I almost want to say something really offensive to try it out”

I am so in love with the www.twitterless.com

Ooh, the locations tab in Twitterless is pretty slick. Nice Google map of where all the followers are located.”

Twitterless Closed-Beta Has Launched

September 15, 2008

After weeks of furious development, Twitterless has finally been launched in the form of a closed-beta.  Scaling is a concern so activation codes will be dealt out in a controlled manner while the application’s processes are being monitored.  There are quite a few features at launch, including:

  • Dropped follower notifications via Twitter direct messaging
  • Graph and Timeline view of follower history
  • Google map of followers
  • Follower filtering by description
  • Ability to create searches for keywords in follower’s posts
  • Auto-Follow and Auto-Block bots
  • Ability to make profile private
  • Ability to post tweets from the Address bar of any browser with automatic url shrinkification

There are a few kinks that will need to be worked out over time as the user-base grows but so far the launch has been a success.  There more features on the way but scalability is the current focus.

To request an activiation code, simply follow “tless” in Twitter and a code will be sent as soon as a slot opens up.


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