Written by Internet

Twitter List Wrangling

[NB. This is really to help anyone having the same problem as I had trying to add many accounts to a Twitter list in one go using a third party application. You may wish to skip this entry!]

Twitter has had lists for years, but I’ve never made any real effort to use them.

It’s never really easy to categorise people. I follow some people because they’re friends, I follow others because they work in “the industry”, I follow some because they have a shared interest in cycling, or photography, or football, or they’re famous and I’m interested in them. And then there are those who fall into multiple camps or something else entirely.

I currently follow around 2,000 people, with some barely ever Tweeting and effectively being dormant accounts, while others seemingly live and breathe Twitter.

For a bit of a test, I thought I’d try to coral all the cycling related accounts into a single list.

I know there are public lists that others have carefully built. But I tend to prefer my own mix of cycling activists, friends interested in cycling, cycling media, and cyclists and their teams themselves. That’s fine as it suits my interests which are as much about London cycling infrastructure as they are the Tour de France.

What quickly becomes clear is that Twitter itself isn’t really great for doing this.

I first tried Twitter owned Tweetdeck which is my go-to way to use Twitter in a desktop browser, buy that doesn’t really help since you’re only really able to get to accounts as they appear in your stream.

The Twitter website is better. But that involves many clicks per account to add a particular account to a particular list. So not only would I have to scan through all the accounts I currently follow, but then click a further several times to add them to a list.

Surely there’s a way to do this in bulk?

There is. A nice site called Twitlistmanager does exactly what you need. Once you’ve authorised it, it presents a long list of the people you follow on Twitter, while across the top of the screen are your lists. Just tick the boxes to put people into lists.

The site presents you with 100 follwers per page – so about 20 pages of accounts in my case.

I dutifully went through the list adding all my cycling related accounts to my list, and after a lot of work, I was done.

Or so I thought.

Back in Tweetdeck, I couldn’t help noticing that cycling accounts I’d certainly added from my main feed weren’t showing up in my Cycling list. Did it take time to propagate? I relaunched Tweetdeck. Still no dice.

There was a problem. I found one account and tried to manually add it again to my list. It seemed to work, but wasn’t.

I headed over to Twitter to see if I could it there. But I got a very strange error message.

“Your account may not be allowed to perform this action.”

A bit of Googling revealed that this error can come up for a variety of reasons, but mostly it was due to Twitter’s rate-limiting. Twitter has limits on how many times you can post updates – especially via third party tools using their APIs.

Twitter lists its limits here. But none of those listed limits appeared to refer to what I’d been doing.

A bit more digging got to this page which details that the REST API is used for Twitter lists, and it talks of 150 or 350 calls to the API per hour depending on whether access has been allowed to the application.

This seemed to be problem I was encountering. Although I hadn’t added – or tried to add – more than 200 accounts to a list, I’d somehow exceeded their limits and unfortunately Twitlistmanager hadn’t told me that.

The solution was to wait an hour (or the rest of an hour) for the count to reset and then go through the list again. This time I could see from Twitlistmanager that some additions had stuck but others hadn’t. That meant I had to go through the full 2,000 accounts for a second time to make sure nothing had been missed (the exclusions weren’t simply at the end).

I’m not blaming the app – the developer presents it free of charge for single users.

But I’m writing this because it’s worth knowing should you ever try a bit of spring cleaning on your Twitter account, or list wrangling in my case, and run up against problems. I haven’t found anyone else suffering quite the same issue, so it’s nice to write about it in case others are Googling the same problem.

I’m pleased with my new Cycling list. But I must admit I’m not in a hurry to produce a full “radio people” list just yet…