Rate Limits on Twitter

The evolution of the API opens the door for third-party developers to access
information on social media networks. In the best case, this provides a healthy, democratic flow of information. Yesterday, DiscoverText had “rate limits” imposed in terms of its access to Twitter data.  As written, the Twitter API allows unauthenticated calls of 150 per hour, per IP address.

Authorized calls (users logged on using their Twitter credentials, also known as OAuth) allow for up to 350 calls per hour, per person. In addition, the Twitter Search API has internal rate limiting mechanisms, but Twitter does not publish those specific limitations for fear of abuse.

Going over any of these limits results in the user being presented with “Error 420”, which simply means that the user is being rate limited. This hampers the ability to harvest twitter feeds within DiscoverText.  We have never had rate limit problems prior to this, but according to timestamps on articles posted on https://dev.twitter.com/, Twitter might have become more cognizant of those harvesting large amounts of data (not just us), and as a result, are cracking down on heavy users.

At Texifter, we fully respect the rules and regulations of the Twitter API, and in no way seek to disobey or bend these set rules in our flagship software product, DiscoverText. On August 18, 2011, the same day we learned of the 420 errors, we performed emergency maintenance to better cope with Twitter rate limitations. We also wanted to more gracefully handle rate limitation errors and to ensure we abide by Twitter Terms of Service. With that said, in order to continue our ability to harvest information from Twitter and perform our cutting-edge research, we are currently exploring easier and more reliable ways to harvest data.

The maintenance performed on DiscoverText stills allow 1500 items per fetch as determined by Twitter’s architecture on the public API. In addition, no extraneous error messages should result when DiscoverText is being rate limited. Some searches might be silently delayed for 5 minutes, however, these fetches will catch up as soon as they can.

In the near future, look for new developments for DiscoverText. We’ve got big plans for our social media API fetching that will greatly enhance our user’s ability to receive timely and actionable social media feeds. We don’t want to reveal too much right this moment, but we’re sure you’ll like what we have in store and in traditional Texifter style, we’ll plan a large announcement when the time is right.

About Joseph Delfino

Joseph Delfino is responsible for business development at Texifter. He has been working with DiscoverText since January of 2011 when he started testing the DiscoverText user interface in the QDAP Lab. His favorite retired DiscoverText tool is the Splicer. Joe is a big film fan, with his favorites being foreign films, documentaries, and anything set in a future dystopian landscape. You can reach Joe on Twitter @_delfino_ and through email at Joe@discovertext.com
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  • http://www.boyntons.us/website Bob Boynton

    I also have started encountering rate limitations. They are often more abrupt than sending me a 420 — like the program ‘dies.’ If figure out a solution that others could use I would be delighted to know what it is.

  • http://texifter.com/ Mark J. Hoy

    Bob, unfortunately it is up to each individual program as to how they handle these errors, and it can sometimes be tricky to find the best course of action. There are some suggestions in the Twitter documentation on rate limiting ( https://dev.twitter.com/docs/rate-limiting ), however it will be up to the individual program’s author to decide what to do.

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