How To Source On Twitter with the Twitter API


  • Source on Twitter with the Twitter API.
  • Convert data into a clean list of users.
  • Get user information.
  • Find websites, emails, phone numbers.
  • Find out what users talk about to create a better outreach.

Get massive amounts of data with a simple one-liner “formula”.


Perhaps you only source with Linkedin. Perhaps you know boolean searches.

A boolean search is like a baby learning to swim. Learning how to source on Twitter with the API is like being Michael Phelps.

Do you want to be Michael Phelps? Continue reading.


This won’t be easy.

If it was easy then anybody could do it.

This requires:

  • A general understanding about how computers work.
  • You need to have: A Twitter account and a Twitter developer app.
  • You need to have a Windows with a Linux Virtual Machine or a Mac or a computer with Linux.
  • Ruby installed and some basic Ruby knowledge.
  • Knowledge of the command line.
  • Bash scripting knowledge.
  • A lot of confidence and attention to detail

The hardest part of the requirements is this: A lot of confidence and attention to detail.

If you can dominate this requirement then it’s downhill from here.

Playing the Twitter game

The Twitter game has a few simple rules:

  • I follow you. You follow me.
  • Tweet often.
  • Build relationships with mentions, favorites, retweets and direct messages.
  • Create groups of people using lists.

If I follow you. Will you follow me?

If the other person doesn’t understand the Twitter game. They won’t follow you.

Maybe the follow you and one day they unfollowed you. Why? Why????

Why would people stop following you on Twitter?

  • You tweeted something too cute
  • You tweeted something not cute
  • They woke up in a bad mood
  • Their dog unfollowed you

A general understanding about how computers work

Computer. Computer!

(the computer doesn’t answer. He tries with the mouse)

Hello computer.

(still nothing happens)

Just use the keyboard!

Layers of abstraction

This is a computer science concept that explains the interaction between the human and the machine.

Have you tried to fix a computer? Maybe. Maybe not.

Probably you know that inside the computer you will find a circuit board with electronic components.

A motherboard with a processor. RAM memory. Wireless circuit card. Hard drive. Battery and other components.

These components only understand 1s and 0s.

But you. The human. You only understand English.

You communicate with the computer through “layers of abstraction”.

1s and 0s are very abstract. If you don’t know about binary numbers. This layer is difficult to understand.

A layer above this is “machine code”.

Machine code looks sort of like this:


Still very abstract.

A layer above this looks like this:

while (fahr <= upper) {
celsius = (5.0/9.0) * (fahr-32.0);
printf("%3.0f %6.1f\n", fahr, celsius);
fahr = fahr + step;

Less abstract right? It starts to look like some sort of math.

A layer above this looks like this:

File.readlines('file.txt').each do |line|
puts line

It starts to look more like English.

One more layer above this is typing "instructions" to a program like Excel or Word or Gmail.

Another layer on top of this is talking to the machine. Perhaps with Alfie

For this tutorial we need to talk at this level:

File.readlines('file.txt').each do |line|
puts line

While you don't have to become a programmer. You can get away with just learning a little bit of code.

You need to have A Twitter account

If you don't have a Twitter account. Something must be wrong in the Universe.

You need to have a Twitter developer app

Go to Twitter Application Management


using your Twitter account.

Click on Create New App.


Fill out the form.


Go to Permissions and set Access to "Read, Write and Access direct messages"


Authorize your Twitter account with your mobile phone. Go to: Towards the bottom it should have a "Phone" listed.

If you are on Windows you need Linux in a Virtual Machine

Your Windows computer should have at least 8GB of RAM...otherwise this is the end of the road for you. Sorry 🙁

A Virtual Machine (VM) is used to install an operating system inside another one. Therefore a "virtual machine".

In this case we need to install Linux inside Windows.

Install the VM from Virtualbox.

Choose Virtualbox for Windows

Download and install the defaults.

Now download Linux Ubuntu from here.

This downloads a file of type .iso

DO NOT double click on this file to open it. We will only open this file with VirtualBox.

Open VirtualBox:

  1. Click on the button "New"
  2. Name: Ubuntu
  3. Memory size: 4096
  4. Choose: Create a virtual hard drive now
  5. Hard drive file type: VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image)
  6. Storage on physical hard drive: Dynamically allocated
  7. Select the size of the virtual hard drive: 30.00 GB

A new VM has been created with name "Ubuntu". With status "Powered Off".

Click on the arrow "Start".

Choose the Ubuntu "iso" file that you downloaded.

The VM will load with Ubuntu. Then follow the instructions to install the defaults.

Do You have a Mac?

You are almost all set here.

Just need to install 2 programs:

The text editor Sublime. Download here.

The terminal iTerm. Download here.

You need to have Knowledge of the command line.

In Windows there is a program called the "Command Prompt". (We are not going to use this)

In Mac or Linux there is a program called the "Terminal" aka "the shell" aka "the bash shell" aka "the command line"

This "command line" helps you communicate with the computer by using code.

A few basic "command line" examples are:

Open the terminal and type this code to see who is the current user logged in:

$ whoami

You don't need to type in the $ dollar sign. This is the Terminal "prompt" inviting you to talk to the computer. Whenever you see the dollar sign. It means this is a command line code.

Type this code to see a list of directories:

$ ls

Type this code to change directories:

$ cd Downloads

Type this code to copy the contents of one file to another:

$ cp this_file to_this_file

There are a lot more "commands" that you can use to communicate with the computer. Later, I will explain a few more.

You need to install Ruby

Ruby is a "high level programming language" that reads sort of like English.

Ruby has "modules" called "Gems" that adds more functionality to a program.

For instance if you are developing a web app that requires a login authentication. There is already a Ruby gem for login authentication that's (almost) plug and play. That way you don't have to build this feature from scratch.

Ruby gems are open source and most are supported by the open source community. Some are also supported by organizations.

Ruby and Ruby gems are constantly updated and they work together to create a functional application.

Ruby is supported by a core team. Some Ruby gems are also supported by this team. But many other Gems are supported by other developers of the open source community.

This creates a challenge.

Similar to the way that Windows works. Excel 98 worked with Windows 98. As Windows kept updating the operating system then other programs had to be properly maintained to work properly with Windows. Excel 98 won't work with Windows 7.

Something similar happens with Ruby and many other programming languages.

There is a gem called oauth that add authentication functionality to a Ruby application.

The version I have installed is 0.4.7.

While the Ruby version I have is 2.3.0

If the Ruby core team decides to launch version 3.0.0 then oauth might stop working. Unless the oauth team makes sure that the gem is updated and works with such version of Ruby.

Ruby on Windows with Linux Virtual Machine

Open VirtualBox and start the Ubuntu virtual machine.

Open the terminal.

Follow this guideline to Install Ruby on Ubuntu.

Ruby on Mac

If you have a Mac. Follow this guideline to install Ruby on Mac

You need to Install Twitter CLI ruby gem

Twitter CLI aka t is a Ruby gem that helps you connect with the Twitter API using the command line. Say that out loud 3 times.

In the Terminal type:

$ gem install t

Previously you created an app on Twitter. We need to authenticate this app with our (Twitter CLI) ruby gem.

$ t authorize

This will send you to an URL to authorize the application that you previously created on Twitter.

Input and Output to send data

There is another important computer science concept that you need to learn.

Input and Output.

  • When you type into Word. The input is the keyboard and the output is the Word document.
  • When you want to print the document. The input is the Word document. The output is the printer

You can redirect data in different ways using simple code.

Redirecting data with Add and Append

>. A greater than sign means "add".

>>. Two greater than signs mean "append".

When you use a command line such as ls to list the contents of your current directory. The output is sent to the "standard output" aka "stdout". Which is the Terminal screen.

Instead we could list the contents of a current directory and send the output to a file.

$ ls > directory-contents.txt

In this example we are using ls to list the contents of the current directory. Then we are using > to "add" the output to the file directory-contents.txt.

Redirecting data with Pipe

|. This symbol is called a "Pipe".

With pipes you can redirect the output of one side to the input of another side.

$ ls | wc -l

In this example we are using ls again to ask the computer for the contents in the current directory.

wc is another command called "word count" that helps you count words from a text file.

If you use it like this: wc -l it will count the number of lines from a text file.

We use the pipe | to send the output of ls (the contents of the current directory) to the command wc -l to count the number of lines.

How to source on Twitter

Open the Terminal.

Get a list of all available commands:

$ t help

Look at all of those commands. yum!
Look at all of those commands. yum!

Send a tweet from the command line

$ t update "I am tweeting from the command line"

Get details about a Twitter user

Been on Twitter for 5 years. Twitter has been online for 9. I wonder what I did for 4.
Been on Twitter for 5 years. Twitter has been online for 9. I wonder what I did for 4.

Create a List of People That Don't Follow You

First, count the number of people that you follow that don’t follow you back:

$ t leaders | wc -l

With leaders you can get a list of people that you follow but don't follow you.

With | you are redirecting the output to the command wc -l to count the number of lines.

If there is 1 user for each line. Then you will get the number of users.

Now create a Twitter list:

$ t list create NameoftheList

Add those people to the list. Keep in mind that it might get stuck up to 500 users. Just wait a few minutes and try it again.

$ t leaders | xargs t list add NameoftheList

In this example we are using t leaders again to get a list of people that you follow but don't follow you back.

We are sending that output to xargs. Which reads the output line by line and executes the next command t list add NameoftheList, to add every user to that Twitter list.

Download Users That Belong To A Twitter list

Let's get back to the Ruby developer example.

The most famous Ruby conference is called "Ruby Conf" and they often use the Twitter hashtag #RubyConf.

You can create a Twitter list and add people that use this hashtag.

Go to the Terminal and use this code to get a list of all your Twitter lists:

$ t lists your-username

Replacing "your-username" with your Twitter username. With or without the @. It doesn't matter.

Find the Twitter list you created. Let's say that the Twitter list is called rubyconf.

$ t lists tomordonez

This will display all my lists and it might be hard to find the one I am looking for.

$ t lists tomordonez | grep 'ruby'

This code is using the pipe | to send the output of t lists tomordonez to the input of grep 'ruby'.

grep is another command that "filters" data. In this case is filtering the output of all my Twitter lists and find only those that contain the word ruby

It will find a list such as:


With the name of the Twitter list now we can download the list of all users that are members of this list.

$ t list members @tomordonez/rubyconf > twitter-list-rubyconf-members.txt

This code is using the redirection > which sends the output of t list members @tomordonez/rubyconf to the input of twitter-list-rubyconf-members.txt.

This code is pulling the list of members that belong to that list and saving them into that text file.

Download User Data From a List

$ t whois @barackobama

This code pulls the user details of the Twitter username @barackobama.

The result is:

ID: 813286
Since: Mar 5 2007 (10 years ago)
Last update: Senate leaders have blocked Judge Garland's hearing for over six months now. Keep pushing: #DoYourJob (a day ago)
Screen name: @BarackObama
Name (Verified) Barack Obama
Tweets: 15,302
Favorites: 10
Listed: 215,433
Following: 634,142
Followers: 77,514,042
Bio: This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the President are signed -bo.
Location: Washington, DC

Let's work with another example. I have a list called 'sourcecon-humans'.

To download the user list of this Twitter list I would do this:

$ t list members @tomordonez/sourcecon-humans > twitter-list-sourcecon-humans-members.txt

This will create a text file with all members of that list. As of this writing: 1343 users.

I could see if a specific user is on this list:

$ cat twitter-list-sourcecon-humans-members.txt | grep 'animal'.

I am using pipe | to send the output of cat twitter... to the input of grep....

With cat I am opening the file twitter-list... and sending the output to the standard output which is the Terminal screen. But with | I am redirecting that output to grep.

grep is then filtering the output of that list to find the word 'animal'

The result of this code is:


If such user wasn't on the list. Then the result would return nothing.

To download the user data of all users that belong to a Twitter list. We need a script

The script could be in Ruby, Python or Bash.

In this case we are going to use Bash and the Ruby gem to connect with the Twitter API.

Sign up for Free here to watch the video about this script. It's easier to watch the video than trying to explain it here.

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