/ blog. chaff. occasional witterings.

2013-08-14 - a writeup

computing 18:20:00

Ever since Twitter hid at-replies from people who weren't mutual followers, I've had cause to wonder how many people are seeing the conversations I seem to be taking part in.

I remember, even just a couple of years ago, there being a few web sites that let you put in two usernames and see who was following both, but there are two problems with that:

  • They were usually really badly designed
  • I couldn't find any of them recently
  • they never did seem to like the fact that my main account is protected

That being the case, I thought it'd be a good little project to hack on. Fetching and calculating the overlap was pretty straightforward, and I had the idea that I'd like to represent the followers of both users, along with their overlaps, with a Venn diagram. It wasn't too hard to get this drawing with d3, but it took a while to completely straighten out all of the maths.

Once I had the app up and running, I found the real reason there probably aren't any of these services any more: Twitter's API rate limits. In particular, intersect makes a lot of use of the /follower/ids call - understandably, since the whole point is the overlap of followers - which gets 5,000 followers at a time, but is limited to 15 calls per 15 minute window.

What does this mean for a user? Well, if you're following normal-ish people, then you can only look up a few of them every quarter of an hour. After that, the app echoes the error Twitter returns: 'rate limit exceeded'. If you try someone with hundreds of thousands of followers, the app will just fail.

I've thought about putting in a counter, either raw or as a percentage, and also of detecting users who'd require more than a few calls to /followers/ids/ and refusing to work for them. (Alternatively, I could only consider their most recent ten thousand users. I may yet do that.)

For now, though, I seem to have reached a point where I'm happy to stop writing code, finish this write-up, and let the app hang out on Heroku for as long as it wants. If you're curious about the code, it's on Github. Meanwhile, I can happily check that when I have a spirited conversation with @whoisdanw, only sixteen people are likely to be subjected to it.


(Oh, and thanks to Fiona Miller, who did some sterling work on colours, as well as thinking through user interactions, and Tom Insam, who came up with the good idea of colouring the users to match the circles representing their follower counts. They were invaluable in making the site look lovely.)