Dear Twisst followers,
As you may have noticed, Twisst stopped sending tweets last week. Twitter suspended the accounts I use for sending the ISS alerts and that was it. Thanks to your pleas, Twitter has contacted me and helped me to get back in business again. For now – we'll have to see how it works out.
What I'm doing with Twitter, the mass sending of tweets, is not really what Twitter is for.
Especially when the ISS is visible in areas where I have a lot of followers, Twisst sends out a lot of tweets (see graph below). Sometimes in excess of 27,000 tweets per day and 4,000 tweets per hour! When you tweet that much, some bells go off at Twitter HQ.
To prevent spam, Twitter has put limits on how many tweets you can send per account, per day and per hour. To be able to send space station alerts to all my followers, I created a lot of different accounts. I have put a lot of effort into getting better at avoiding the limits and fine-tuning accounts to have them look less like spam-accounts.
Last couple of weeks however, Twitter started blocking those sender accounts. I thought it was because of another limit, on the number of tweets coming from one IP address. The emails I got said it had to do with sending a lot of mentions to people who are not following those accounts. Twitter doesn't disclose too much about their spam prevention algorithms, so we may never know what was the biggest problem.
Some people said: we're happy to follow the sender accounts to solve that. But if you would do that, you would see all tweets from that account to anyone you follow. If all your Twitter friends follow Twisst, your timeline could be cluttered with duplicate info.
Others thought I should create accounts for different areas, with one tweet per day for that area. This approach could work, and it has been done, but it does have it's disadavantages. The information gets less personal and you'd risk overlooking the tweets in your general timeline.
Also that approach takes a lot of different accounts. To publish information accurate enough to be useful for spotting the ISS, the areas should not be larger than 1x1 degrees on the map. Twisst has almost 50,000 followers in litterally all countries in the world. Dividing all of them into such a grid, I would still need more than 2,200 Twitter accounts!
There's a solution for everything of course, but besides the pros and cons of those mentioned, you will understand that all would take time to implement. The more time I have to spend on working around obstacles, the more the project starts to look like work. Twisst has been incredibly interesting for me to build and learn from. But it should remain a fun project. I want to spend time on more cool features and not too much worrying about Twitter limits.
Anyway, I won't complain. The response from Twisst followers has been overwhelming and heartwarming. You guys even spntaneously came up with a hashtag, #saveTwisst. That was awesome! It's really great to see what my little service means to people. Thank you very much for that!
Twitter contacted me and unsuspended all blocked sender accounts (about 200!). They promise to unsuspend them again the next time their automated spam algorithms put them out of order.
They also propose sending a portion of the alerts as DM's. I will start looking into changing my system to do that. If you have no problem with getting your alerts as DM, then this could be a way to keep Twisst up and running.
I will also try to create filters, so you won't get alerts for passes you don't want to know about anyway, like maybe early morning passes. That way, Twisst needs to send out a lot less tweets.
I don't know if these things will prove real solutions and I don't know if the sender accounts will remain active for a while, but we'll see. I am going to turn on the sending mechanism again later on. Thanks again for all your support, and clear skies to you!