Get Twitter @replies to your cell phone

This old workaround is no longer required! Twitter now has an option to get these sent directly to your phone in a much more timly manner than any hack or third party service. Check out your Twitter mobile settings for the following:

Thanks Twitter! :)

.

I little “hack” I thought I’d share for Twitter users…

Recently Vodafone NZ and Twitter teamed up for a local TXT/SMS service, including free-to-receive tweets/messages. Awesome stuff, although one disappointment is that Twitter doesn’t provide a way of getting @replies (or ‘mentions’) to your phone (see item 2 under “People often wonder…” on this support page). I think this is a bit of a shortcoming as in my opinion @replies can be equally important as direct messages (DM’s) to tweeters, as these ultimately drive the social interaction and sometimes need a response (esp if you get lots of questions!).

The workaround:
Since the only option is to receive tweets to your cell phone from people you follow for whom you have turned “device updates” on, a possible workaround is to follow an automated user (aka “bot”) that retweets all your @replies/mentions.

The implementation:
My solution was to pipe the RSS feed for a search on @myusername into Yahoo Pipes, filter and modify the output there, then send the Pipes output feed to TwitterFeed for feeding into a private (and protected) Twitter account that I follow with “device updates on”. Clear as mud?! You might ask why the pass-through at Yahoo Pipes, and indeed you could skip that step, but I wanted to modify each feed item to include the author of the @reply in each title element – the bit that gets retweeted.

If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of my method, read on!

The technical stuff…

Ingredients:

A Twitter account (well duh!)
A cell phone (again, duh!)
A second Twitter account for your @replies
A Yahoo Pipes account
A TwitterFeed account (easy via OpenID)

Method:

1. Given that you have a Twitter account (and a cell phone!) set up your cell phone via twitter.com/devices and turn device updates “on” once enabled/verified. Note this is different to the per-user device updates and you might like to check those you follow – especially the earliest people you followed as in early twitter days the default was to have updates on when following someone new – these days, the default is set to off. If you don’t double check who you’re following, you might be about to get lots of messages…!

2. Set up another Twitter account that will be the one automatically retweeting your @replies or mentions. Personally, I chose a short username to save space in my TXT message (as it’s included at the start) and protected the account via twitter.com/account/settings (since I’m the only one who cares about these tweets and didn’t want to spam the public timeline). You will of course need another email address for a second Twitter account, but that’s pretty easy, especially if you’re a Gmail user and use this method. ;)

3. Go back to your regular Twitter account and “follow” the second account you just set up and turn device updates on for that user. This is key to the whole process!

4. Visit search.twitter.com and do a search on “@yourusername” (eg here’s mine), then grab the RSS link for those results via the “Feed for this query” link near the top right of the page. Looking at the feed, the astute among you will immediately realise why I wanted to next use Yahoo Pipes – the item title and content elements don’t contain who tweeted my username…

5. Head over to pipes.yahoo.com and either join or sign in with your Yahoo! ID, then create a new pipe which pulls in your search feed. The modifications I chose look like this,

Editing the Yahoo Pipe

The “Regex” module does the following,

  • In “item.author.name” replace ” .+” with “”
    In the search results feed, “item.author.name” contains “username (real name)” and this rule removes everything from the first space onwards (” .+” ie space-dot-plus) since I want to use the “username” part only.
  • In “item.title” replace “.+” with “${author.name}: ${y:title}”
    This rule is a little sneaky in that it replaces ALL of “item.title” (“.+” grabs everything) with “username: ” followed by the original title which is duplicated in the “y:title” element.
  • In “item.title” replace “@chrisnoble_nz” with “^C”
    This massively shortens my @username in the title element simply to save characters. You could replace your @username with nothing (similar to rule 1), but this can be confusing when reading the retweet as your @username may occur anywhere in the original tweet, not just at the start. Using a short replacement (“^C” in this case) keeps the original tweet intact albeit abbreviated.

Finally, I’ve used a “Rename” module to change the name of “item.author” to “tweet.author” which effectively removes the author element from the output feed. I found this was necessary as the resulting feed wouldn’t validate with “item.author” containing the username only. According to the RSS specification the author element should contain an email address, but is an optional element so can be safely removed to leave a valid feed.

So, given the above, here’s an example of the change,

Original feed title from search results (no info on who tweeted it):
“@chrisnoble_nz Yikes IP based filtering, are we living in NZ or China????”

Pipe output feed title for retweeting (now with author username):
“adrianjarvis: ^C Yikes IP based filtering, are we living in NZ or China????”

Once that’s done and working, save the Pipe and grab the RSS feed for it.

6. Now visit twitterfeed.com and sign up or sign in (easy via OpenID if you have a Google account for example). Create a new feed and link it to your second automated Twitter account (in my case I have one called “atcn_nz” – but a shorter name would be even better!) The key settings I used are as follows,

Update Frequency = 30min, post up to 5 new updates
Post Content = title only, and don’t post a link
Post Sorting = pubDate

This will ensure TwitterFeed updates as frequently as permitted with as many posts as possible. The one change you might like to make is to include a link in the “Post Content” section if you want to have a link back to the original tweet for use on your cell phone web browser (I chose not to as I just want a notification message only).

And you’re done! Provided everything is set up, activated, validated and verified etc, you’ll now start receiving SMS/TXT messages whenever someone replies or retweets with @yourusername in their tweet.

Continuing with the above example, I got a TXT/SMS from 8987 (the Vodafone NZ Twitter number) that said:
“atcn_nz: adrianjarvis: ^C Yikes IP based filtering, are we living in NZ or China????”

Voila! :)

Finally, some limitations:

Expect a delay.
While the Twitter search is pretty fast (near real time?) there are downstream delays. Yahoo Pipes has to check the search feed and I’m not sure how frequently that happens. Following that, TwitterFeed checks the Pipes output every 30 minutes and then feeds your second account. Next Twitter has to send out the TXT/SMS notification. Sometimes I’ve seen messages come through in minutes of the original tweet, sometimes 30 minutes or longer.

You may miss some tweets.
Note that TwitterFeed only posts 5 updates every 30 minutes, meaning if you get more replies/mentions than that frequency you’ll only get the latest 5.

Tweets may get truncated.
If you choose to include a link, it’s likely the original tweet will get truncated to allow space for the link to be included in the automated retweet. Furthermore, if your username is short and the person replying or retweeting you has a longer username, the replacement at Yahoo Pipes may lengthen the title beyond 140 characters, also resulting in truncation. In the example above note that “@chrisnoble_nz” is 14 characters and the replacement to “adrianjarvis: ^C” is 16 characters (and would be more if that persons username was longer).

These limitations aside, I think the method is still ok and I like getting the notifications of @replies/mentions – especially if I’m away from Twitter! Of course a much better solution would be for the peeps at Twitter to include an option for notifications of DM’s and/or @replies/mentions, but until they do, you’ll have to implement some sort of hack of your own.

Enjoy!

Oh, and if you try this method or have a better solution, leave me a comment below, or tweet me: @chrisnoble_nz.

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About Chris
A self confessed geek, meteorologist (aka weather forecaster), father & proud kiwi mainlander living, working & playing in Wellington, New Zealand.

26 Responses to Get Twitter @replies to your cell phone

  1. Tommy says:

    Thanks! I was looking for a way to do this, and this was perfect. The guide was very clear on exactly what to do. Again, thanks for the great guide!

  2. Gaby says:

    Another limitation is that you won’t be able to see the protected replies/mentions AFAIK.

    Randomly found this entry from Googling 8987 Twitter. In other links, it seems like some people last month had issues with the shortcode for NZ SMS. Do you know if that’s been resolved? I’ll be heading to NZ on a working holiday visa in a couple of months and plan to stay in touch with friends and family via Twitter (and likely my travel blog when I have time to update it), so I’d love to know about that.

  3. Chris says:

    Tommy – cheers!

    Gaby – yeah, I think you’re right about that limitation – must try testing that. No issues now with the 8987 shortcode AFAIK – 20c to send and free to receive, but not sure what the deal is for international roamers here (or even if anything is different). You could try asking @VodafoneNZ directly…

  4. Gaby says:

    Chris, glad to hear you’re not currently experiencing issues with the shortcode :) I have a GSM unlocked phone that a friend here in the States wasn’t using, so she’s sent it to me and another friend will be sending me a SIM card, so I won’t be roaming :)

  5. Chris says:

    Regarding tweeting from a Vodafone NZ cell phone, Vodafone tweeted this today (6 Aug),

    Reminder – today is the last day you can tweet out for free on VodafoneNZ from your phone. Tomorrow tweets OUT will cost 20c IN still free.

  6. Chris says:

    Came across this while searching on Google. Perfect solution. Thanks for putting this up.

  7. ahoogst says:

    hey Chris, I just tried this out and almost got it to work fully. I can receive the message but it does not display the original author, only the dummy twitter account I set up.
    Ex: “atreps:: @A no way!”

    atreps being my dummy account and I’m assuming the original author should be between the colons. Thanks.

  8. Chris says:

    ahoogst – perhaps a problem with the first entry in the Pipes regex box. Check the replace box contains ” .+” (ie space-dot-plus). If you don’t have that space in there it will blast out the entire author.name leaving that part blank when later included.

    Good luck!

  9. ahoogst says:

    Yup that did the trick, careless mistake by me. Thanks Chris and great job with the workaround!

  10. polly says:

    I just have one question. Which Twitter account is my phone supposed to be set up with? The real one or add’l one? I’ve always had it set up with my original acc’t (obviously) and I got as far as my add’l account to feed off of my tweets, but I don’t understand how it gets sent to my phone from that point.

    Is it sent as a direct message? Is there somewhere else I need to add my phone number to? I tried to add it to the add’l Twitter acc’t & since my phone # is already in use by the 1st one, I was confused which acc’t actually needs it.

    Thanks for this anyway, your directions are very clear — it’s just that one sentence that I didn’t understand. :)

  11. Chris says:

    polly – your phone should be set up with your main (real) twitter account.

    The extra (automated/bot) twitter account is only posted to by twitterfeed – which is simply reposting any search results containing your real twitter username.

    The way the automated/bot account tweets get to your phone is by your real account following the automated/bot account with (mobile) updates turned on.

    Hope that helps.

  12. lexis says:

    which RSS feed am i supposed to like with twitterfeed.com? i’m using the one from pipes but twitterfeed said they “couldn’t parse this feed.”

  13. Chris says:

    That’s the right feed to link. It could be that you have a error in the pipes somewhere that has stripped something TwitterFeed needs, or there’s a temporary problem at TwitterFeed (I seem to recall something like that once).

    You could try comparing your Pipes output feed with mine, or try running it through Feed Validator to see if that highlights anything. My Pipes output is valid but still has a couple of recommendations.

  14. ShellyBear says:

    I followed the steps correctly, except I got a little confused on exactly what RSS feed to add on twitterfeed.com, I put the Yahoo Pipes RSS feed, is that right?

    Anyways, hope it works, thanks for posting!

  15. ShellyBear says:

    Nevermind about my previous question.

    So far I have one tweet from my fake account, but it was only when I posted “testing”, so far it’s not retweeting my twitter tweets. But maybe because of the delay?

  16. Chris says:

    Hey ShellyBear – could be the delay. Sometimes it’s super fast, sometimes it’s horribly slow. Sigh. I just hope Twitter provide @reply notifications via SMS as they do with DM’s, or at least the option to enable it.
    Please Twitter. Pretty please!

  17. Hiya — I just wrote a little script that lets you sign up and redirect your replies to your phone as DMs so that everyone can use it without having to jump through hoops – thanks for the idea! (I’m not using pipes though, just the regular Twitter Streaming API)

    It lives at http://replies2phone.com/

    Cheers,
    Aditya

  18. Chris says:

    Aditya – nice! I’ll certainly be giving it a try.
    Cheers, Chris.

  19. JP says:

    How do I get the RSS feed for the yahoo pipes?

  20. Chris says:

    After saving the pipe, run it via the link at the top of the page, then above the pipe results look for the “Get as RSS” link.

  21. Elizabeth Y. says:

    where can you find the regex tag? and the rename tag, its not appears not to be there for me

  22. Chris says:

    The regex and rename modules are both under the “Operators” heading in the left hand menu list when editing your pipe.

    Good luck!

  23. Elizabeth Y. says:

    forget it sorry i found it

  24. Elizabeth Y. says:

    oh thank you anyway!

  25. dwarburt says:

    the RSS feed for the twitter mentions was hard to find for me, the link “Feed for this query” seems to be gone from twitter. Anyway, it follows the format http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%40USERNAME so just put that into the pipe source.

    Looks great otherwise though, and i never heard of yahoo pipes before but they are great.

  26. Chris says:

    It’s been a while since I posted here last, but Twitter now has an option to get txt notifications of mentions and replies! Yay!!! Check Twitter Settings > Mobile and look for the checkbox.

    Thank you Twitter. :)

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