Posts Tagged ‘Announcement’

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!

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.