A $10000 BTC Bounty for an open source tool to export your Twitter followers
People have crowdfunded a $10000 bounty, payable in BTC, for an open source tool that helps people export their followers from Twitter to Substack, Ghost, Locals, or other user-controlled platforms.
- Read on for the problem description and possible solutions.
- Submit your bounty entry here.
Because this is desired by many people, a good solution to this bounty could become a product or even a startup. You'd want to first get it to work robustly for Twitter influencers, probably via white glove service for the first 100 or so accounts. And then make it work for other social platforms. Companies like Buffer have done surprisingly well ($20M+ ARR!) with similar seemingly simple products that fill a hole in the social networking landscape.
Problem: exporting followers from Twitter
Twitter is an incredible platform for learning and finding people of like mind. I admire much of what Jack Dorsey and his team have accomplished.
However, it has several downsides for users with large follower bases, as it lacks tools for:
- distribution: you can't contact all of your followers without permission from Twitter
- customization: you can't customize the experience for your followers or offer them added benefits
- monetization: you don't make money as a Twitter influencer, and don't get a storefront to sell things
- moderation: you can't maintain a civil tone among your community
- information: you don't have individual-level search and analytics on your follower base
- prioritization: you can't up- or down-regulate what appears in your feed or that of your followers
- brand management: you don't control your own brand or domain name, as it's twitter.com/example rather than example.com
For these reasons and more, many people are moving to platforms like Substack, Ghost, Locals, or the like. In these platforms, an influencer has full root privileges over their community and can give a richer experience. You don't need to pay Twitter ads to reach your followers, or trust that they will deliver your content to their feed.
The issue, however, is that it's not trivial to export a large follower base from Twitter!
Note that the problem here is not the export of one's own profile data. That is relatively easy and Twitter already supports that. The issue is not the access to your own data, the issue is the ability to contact your followers (eg via email or phone) without Twitter's additional consent.
Solution: mass DM with subscribe link?
Here's the ideal: if you have N followers, you get a list of N emails (or phone numbers) for those followers with their explicit consent to contact them on another platform, and without bothering them very much or at all. Also, the solution shouldn't take too much time on the part of the influencer to run and maintain a script.
In theory, Twitter could add a feature where users could opt in to allowing their emails to be viewed by a few, some, or all of the accounts they followed, perhaps in return for a micropayment of some kind. For example, an account could pay $X for the verified email of each follower with an account age over 3 months and >100 real followers themselves.
But in the absence of a built-in feature like this, there are several overlapping ways to export your userbase to example.com/subscribe.
- Put example.com/subscribe in your name, bio, photo, and profile
- Create a pinned tweet directing your followers to example.com/subscribe
- Regularly post a tweet with example.com/subscribe
- Publicly tweet to each follower with example.com/subscribe
- Set up a separate new account that does #1-4, to keep the public mentions out of your timeline
- Parse the bios of each follower account for public contact info (eg if they have their email in their bio), and email them out-of-band with example.com/subscribe
- Set up a welcome message with example.com/subscribe for each new follower
- Privately DM each follower once with example.com/subscribe
None of these are perfect. But the last one seems like it has the right balance of being reasonable (a single DM to someone who has chosen to follow you should be OK) and in theory relatively easy to automate. Call this the mass DM approach. In particular, Twitter has a bunch of tools for corporations to do customer service via DM that might be repurposed for this use case.
The mass DM approach
The simplest solution for the mass DM approach might be a command line app that takes as input a Twitter API key and a message to send each user. It gives you a preview of all of your followers, gives you some options to rank them by importance, and lets you try it out by sending test messages to a few accounts before opening it up to message 1000 accounts per day. It stores state so you know who you messaged in the past, such that you don't inadvertently recontact them.
You can imagine a fancier local Mac App that puts a nice GUI on top of the command line engine described above. Or an even fancier hosted version with individually attributable conversion links, so you know which usernames converted to which emails. The hosted version would also allow you to keep running the 1000 DMs per day in the background, so it could be a SaaS service.
Bounty: $10000 bounty for open source mass DM tool
Here is a thread with context on the initial $1000 bounty by @balajis.
Enough other people were interested in this that the total bounty funds are now >$10000 as of Sunday June 14, 2020!
If more money comes in beyond $10,000, we will allocate the first $10,000 to the winner. We'll then allocate remaining monies to folks who test out the app and/or possibly to second and third place submissions.
- $1000 from @balajis
- $1000 from @ameensol
- $1000 from @shervin
- $1000 from @maxua
- $500 from @seanlinehan
- $500 from @stevecarrera
- $200 from @kiko_himself
- $150 from @deconstructized
- $2000 from @richardheartwin
- $100 from @allenday
- $150 from @paulyacoubian
- $250 from @zosegal
- $1000 from anon1
- $1000 from anon2
- $500 from anon3
- $500 from anon4
- $1000 from anon5
In terms of mechanics, I (@balajis) will decide on the winner by June 21, 2020, and then the BTC address of the winner will be provided to the various people who have publicly supported the bounty.
It will be incumbent upon each of these people to pay what they have committed to the winner. They can optionally publicly post an on-chain confirmation.
How to submit an entry for the bounty?
Go to this issue and make a comment with a link to your project. Ideally it should have a gif or something that shows that it works.
What about other approaches?
As noted above, the ideal is that if you have N followers, you get a list of N emails (or phone numbers) for those followers with their explicit consent to contact them on another platform, and without bothering them very much or at all, or requiring too much time or money on the part of the influencer.
If you can achieve this goal another way, that's fine.
What about Twitter API and DM limits?
These are a critical constraint. If you have a solution that works in theory, but that breaks on accounts with many followers, or gets an account banned or shadowbanned for spam, or has some other serious negative side effect, then you don't have a solution.
What do you mean by ranking followers?
Because you can only send 1000 DMs per day, you will want to prioritize your followers such that you export the most important ones first. These might be the ones who have the most followers themselves, or who have some attribute in their bio (like a #Bitcoin hashtag), or that have some other criteria. In practice this means that you'll likely want a follower table, where the first column is the Twitter username and subsequent columns are metadata on that username (along with a timestamp for when that metadata was last collected, as it can become stale as people update their profiles).
Can the tool run for multiple days?
Yes, Twitter's default API has a 1000-daily-DM limit. So your tool might need to run for multiple days.
The open source version would run locally and have some state, like a SQLite database or a flatfile. It would use that state to record what people it had DM’d and when, along with what was said and whether they responded. You should also allow re-running of the tool periodically as new followers arise, without requiring the influencer to think about whether they are inadvertently messaging people they already messaged.
Can the tool require something above the basic API?
Maybe, so long as that API access isn't too expensive or time consuming to get for the typical Twitter influencer with (say) 10,000 followers.
The DM API for customer service seems like it might be quite relevant.
Can the tool be command line only?
That's the simplest version, but ideally there should be a simple Mac app and a hosted version as well.
The command line version would be for developers.
The Mac app would be for folks who aren't developers, but don't want to give their Twitter credentials out to a new website. They'd prefer to paste in an API key locally.
The hosted version will probably be the most widely used, where someone logs in with Twitter OAuth and sets up this mass DM to run in the background, with analytics on who has been contacted, who signed up, and so on.
However, because there are many fly-by-night Twitter apps, and because of the nature of what this app is doing (mass DM of followers), the influencer will want to carefully babysit it and the presence of the open source versions will increase trust in the hosted version.
What about existing tools?
Here are a few that are relevant:
- Example of using Python API to extract followers: get_followers_bios.py
- Example of getting followers without official API: Twint
- Command line tool for interacting with Twitter: t
There are tons of open source tools for working with Twitter out there on GitHub and the broader internet. Feel free to use them rather than reinventing the wheel.
The problem of exporting your following applies to all social media, and has been discussed for the better part of a decade, but it now feels like it's gotten to a boil. There is a critical mass of people who are moving to platforms like Substack, Ghost, and Locals that offer greater control over your audience (and, with it, monetization for the influencer and benefits for the audience).
If we can solve it for Twitter, we can probably generalize this to work for partial exodus of influencers from other platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Please note that Twitter and company will be fine and won't go away any time soon. This is a cave-and-commons approach. The large global social networks will likely persist for some time as "commons" where you recruit members, but these "caves" off to the side with individual influencer-led communities will thrive.
Finally, as noted above, companies like Buffer that solve seemingly simple problems like this have gotten to $20M+ in ARR. If you can build and maintain a tool that reliably exports a large percentage of follower emails from Twitter and other social networks, with the consent of the users and at a reasonable price, you have something that a large number of influencers will likely pay for.