How to Automate Twitter – a bit at least !


Perl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been trying to push up the readership of the blog here ( and get some people to stick around a bit, subscribe, follow on twitter etc. )  I’m not a Facebooker – I do have an account ( or two … ) but they contain nothing much of interest, they were created in order to investigate how FB worked, rather than anything else, so I’m not exactly the stereotypical user ! I make use of LinkedIn and Twitter as my online “social” tools and I’ve not graduated beyond that. The trouble is, I believe, in the transient nature of Twitter – I Tweet and it disappears off the bottom of the screen in seconds as other’s posts come in and push it down. I’ve watched for a while, and it seems that the “successful” Tweeters post their links frequently – keeping them in view for a longer period of time.

Now, I have to admit that I am lazy, but also geeky – I want to post a tweet advertising the blog frequently, but without user interaction. I’m sure that people will pop-up and tell me of things that automagically do this for me – HootSuite springs to mind – but having used it, it has already upset me with it’s scheduling system – the CSV upload is a pain, and, as of yet, I’ve not managed a single one without an error. Sooo, as I spent a while ago messing around with Twitter and Perl, I thought that the easiest way forward might just be to write my own.

For want of a better methodology, as I intend to post once a week, I want each entry alerted on immediately, and then in increasing intervals until the next post is due out ( 1 week hence ). I don’t want mid-term posts to reset the last weeks worth, but if it is relevant ( like I hope all posts are !) then I do want to publicise it for a full week as well. I’ve tried a couple of exponential increases, (2 * last period, 1.5 * last period ), but to be honest as I’m sure you can imagine, it gets up to over a day fairly quickly … (Google “exponential” if you want to know more !)  So I’m going to say day one is once every two hours, day two is once every three hours, day three once every four hours, day four is four times in the day, day five is three times a day, day six is twice, and just the once on the seventh day – heck, if God can take a rest, so can our program ! That gives us a total of 36 Tweets, weighted towards the start whilst the post is fresh and tailing off as the new post comes along.

As always stated with my programming posts, I’m not a programmer, any similarity to programmers living or dead is entirely coincidental. I like programming in Perl, because, not only is “there more than one way to do it”, I can usually figure out at least one of those particular permutations – elegant as my solution may not be … [ if you want to see elegant programming – and the output of the man that I go to when I get stuck – have a look over here. Shamefully he wastes his time in the world of Microsoft, but we forgive him a lot 😉 ]

It turns out, much to my annoyance that the authentication methods that I was using in the “Hacking around with Twitter” is no longer valid. It seems that I now need to use OAuth1 … However, after several hours of buggering around with it I failed completely to get it to work. So back to the drawing board there …

Python anybody ?

English: Python logo Deutsch: Python Logo

English: Python logo Deutsch: Python Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been meaning to get cracking with Python for some time. I was a die hard Perl fan until the day I saw the graphs that came from matplotlib – I was taken by the quality and professionalism of them, and I immediately spent far more money than can be considered sensible on all sorts of Python books so that I too, could make maths and art become one and the same thing. It seems though that I have the same level of programming ability as a garden slug when it comes to moving languages, and the same sort of speed of movement. It took me three years (ish) at university to learn C [ and ML and Prolog – but let’s be honest, neither of those actually count as programming languages ] and it’s taken me countless years since to learn to threaten, coerce and cajole Perl to do my bidding at least 50% of the time.

This, then, is my forced introduction to Python – my baptism of fire ( although God only knows why, if I can’t do it in Perl I stand the least bit of chance in Python ! ). And, not only that, I’m going to push it out here for your ridicule and derision.

Another day, I’d like to walk through the Rackspace cloud with you, but that’s for another day – let us just say, that I quickly threw up an Fedora 15 (Lovelock) instance to play with, and was deeply relieved that Python appears to be a standard part of the distribution. For reference my development environment also consists of Komodo Edit, which is excellent, with supported syntax highlighting for both Perl and Python ( and HTML and C and C++ and … ) also, when correctly configured, is quite happy using scp to remotely edit files and browse remote directories.

I understand that the Python equivalent of CPAN is PyPI – the Python Package Index – and, after installing the package, I’ve used that to install the Tweepy library. I’m not going to repeat the guidance on creating a new application in either (both!) of the blog links below – what I will say though is that you should remember to set your application settings to Read and Write – otherwise it won’t work 😉2

I’ve split the examples out so that there is a config file that holds the various keys. It’s format is as follows:

CONSUMER_KEY = consumer_key_here
CONSUMER_SECRET = consumer_secret_here
ACCESS_KEY = access_key_here
ACCESS_SECRET = access_secret_here

Obviously insert your own, hard earned keys in here – no inverted commas or anything they get parsed in a minute with ConfigParser. [ Basically, I couldn’t go through the rest of this worrying about accidentally publishing my keys every five minutes. ]. I used the script provided in the example to do this, although it seems that you can generate these keys for your own Twitter account in the developer section of the site without going through the pain or the learning experience.

I’m getting worried how long this post is getting – especially after a discussion with a young man the other day who said that his dissertation was 5000 words only and I’ve written a 5th of that ! – so below is the remainder of the sample code for a command line client, this takes text after the command ( contained in ‘ ‘ ) and updates your status with it ( e.g. ./ ‘It lives!’ ):

#!/usr/bin/env python

import sys
import tweepy
from ConfigParser import SafeConfigParser

parser = SafeConfigParser()'twitter.conf')

CONSUMER_KEY = parser.get('consumer_keys','CONSUMER_KEY')
CONSUMER_SECRET = parser.get('consumer_keys','CONSUMER_SECRET')
ACCESS_KEY = parser.get('access_keys','ACCESS_KEY')
ACCESS_SECRET = parser.get('access_keys','ACCESS_SECRET')

auth = tweepy.OAuthHandler(CONSUMER_KEY, CONSUMER_SECRET)
auth.set_access_token(ACCESS_KEY, ACCESS_SECRET)
api = tweepy.API(auth)api.update_status(sys.argv[1])

I’ll write a second post within the next week to update the remainder with a full program to automate the remainder of the posting process – I want to get it running asap to be honest, as I think I’m missing out !

1. With thanks to David Moreno’s blog post on the issue as my starting point on OAuth for Perl, and perhaps the first and last bit of it that I understood ! And Jeff Miller’s blog post for the Python equivalent.
2. Which may well be why I couldn’t get the darn Perl version to work, I realise now. However, a kick in the pants, is a kick in the pants for whatever reason it comes …

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One thought on “How to Automate Twitter – a bit at least !

  1. Iain Emsley says:

    Si, having also dived into Python for some things (though PHP is the main work language), I can appreciate its simplicity and elegance. I’m certainly not gong to criticise your Perl/Python – mine is shocking at times. Thanks for sharing though, always useful seeing other people use a language to kickstart thoughts.

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