Typetweets Tracks Type-related Twitter Talk

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use | Yves Peters | October 15, 2008

I was recently alerted by Frederik Berlaen – our resident type designer and scripting champion – of Typetweets, a neat website by Kyle Meyer, a user experience designer for Minneapolis-based Clockwork Active Media Systems.

The concept for Typetweets is deceptively simple – it basically is an up to the minute look at the typographic discussions happening across Twitter. The website displays the last 100 tweets from Twitter that mentioned a typographic related term. These tweets range from humorous, to useless, to providing hours of fun with links to other sites. It’s really up to the community at large to determine the quality of its contents at any given time.

So how does TypeTweets work? It scours the Twitter feeds looking for specific keywords. As Twitter seems to have some limit to their number, right now there are eleven of them. However Kyle is working on creating a way to include more terms in the near future. Initially the terms were:

  • Typography
  • Typeface
  • Serif
  • Typographic
  • Helvetica
  • Verdana
  • Ampersand
  • Letterpress
  • Caslon
  • Palatino
  • Futura

Obviously this is hardly an extensive list, and Kyle is happy to welcome suggestions. But there is a caveat that complicates matters. If the term has any other uses Typetweets ends up pulling in tweets that don’t have anything to do with typography. For example, there is apparently a hotel or something named Clarendon that people like to discuss, a lot. This is also the reason why Kyle is hesitant to include “font” as it is used so frequently, and by so many people, that it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. But that won’t stop him from turning it on and off intermittently at times.

What exactly happens under the hood is a relatively simple thing in theory, but playing nice with Twitter’s servers complicates things a little. Essentially, as Kyle explains, this is what happens:

  1. A cron job runs a PHP script every five minutes.
  2. The PHP script sends a query out to Twitter, and gets the tweets back as data.
  3. The data gets parsed through a decent bit of Regex to make it more useful.
  4. The result is stored as a file on Kyle’s server, so that when people view Typetweets, he’s not using any of Twitter’s servers to supply the data.
  5. A bit of Javascript parses the data when you load the page and you enjoy reading.

Although there’s no timeline for updates to Typetweets, Kyle already has a few upgrades figured out and just needs to find time to add them. Typetweets still is an alpha version, a proof of concept, so there might be quite a few bugs left in it which may account for the occasional rogue non-typographic tweet, display bug, etc. But I share Kyle’s opinion: “It’s still good fun to play with in my humble opinion, even in its rough form.”

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