How non-programmers can use the Twitter API

Photo by Heather

I recently got an email from a graduate student asking for help. He wasn't really a programmer but wanted to get someone's followers and friends in .csv form to feed into his analysis tools. One of the joys of the XML REST api that Twitter uses is that it's all human-readable, so you can get a long way without coding. Here's a quick guide.

The best place to start is this web page:

lists all the information you can get from Twitter about other users. All of the API calls are actually web addresses, so you can work
with them without using any code. For example, if you type this into
the address bar of Firefox or Safari (not tested on IE) you'll see a
formatted list of the IDs of all my friends:

The same idea works for followers:

The output is actually XML, but you don't need to understand the details to pull out simple information. It's not quite CSV, but hopefully with some simple
text replacement hacking you might be able to convert it to the form
you want. For example you could copy and paste from Firefox and use your favorite text editor to remove "<id>", "</id>", "<ids>" and "</ids>". You'd then have a text file with just an id number on each line.

The next issue would be mapping those ids to names. To do
that you'll need another call, replacing 4411041 with the number you

In Firefox you'll see another page of XML. To get the information you need, search for the line with "<screen_name>".

also probably want to do this from the command line to automate the
process which will mean some coding. I recommend using a unix-y system
like OS X or Linux, since they give you access to curl to fetch the web
page rather than manually copying it from the web browser, and the text
processing tools (eg Perl or your favorite script language). If you're
stuck on Windows, wget and .bat files may be an alternative, though it
won't be pretty.

Another wrinkle is that some of the calls require logging in. One way to do that is include your username and password in the URL, something like this:;

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  1. Pingback: Samuel Beckett, Motivational Speaker | Konfeksiyon Tekstil

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