Parnassus Group

Defining the Conversation

How we identified Neil Patrick Harris’s 3 millionth follower

How do you know what order your followers came in?

Neil Patrick Harris, who is ActuallyNPH on Twitter, wanted to give a special prize to his 3 millionth follower. Here’s how used the Twitter API to determine who the lucky winner was:

First, we had to determine if the Twitter API would reliably return a list of NPH’s last 5,000 followers in reverse chronological order. We used three separate twitter accounts to follow @actuallynph at specific times, taking a screen grab of NPH’s follower counts at that time.

We then called the API multiple times over the course of an hour or so, to determine if the follower number remained constant for each test account, and that the distance in followers between the two also remained constant. They did.

This morning, we called the API for NPH’s last 5,000 followers, and counted backwards to the twitter_id of the 3 millionth follower:

id = 19125073
screen_name = sarahbeep
name = Sarah Bates

Congratulations Sarah Bates!

Twitter in Politics: Is It Legitimate or Evil?

My local paper carried a story today about Twitter’s fast penetration of the US Federal Government. There’s a lot of praise from new media types and transparency junkies, but of course the cynics abound:

Some bloggers have mused that Twitter may not be an effective way of communicating with Congress. Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of Global Voices Online, asked in a recent posting if Twitter had “just become another tool for spamming politicians and decision makers.”

Judging from my experience with public figures and Twitter, one of the things that is most exciting is the raw pipeline to the public. Until the internet made it possible for “anybody” to amass a following the size of a city, getting into the public eye meant putting an increasing number of filters between you and your…fans.

In the end, though, it’s important to remember that Twitter (like WordPress) is just a tool, and it’s not inherently a good tool or a bad tool. It’s perfectly possible for one politician to be using it honestly to connect with their constituents and another to bang out press releases.

And, incidentally, both of those approaches are totally OK. Those who want the press releases will follow the accounts that pump it out. Those who don’t, won’t.