Twitter APIs

My friend @nicchick asked a question last night, at a meeting of Twitter users here in Marbella, about API limits on twitter. A few people had a go at explaining this, but she admitted in a tweet this morning that it was still a mystery.

Her problem is that when she’s on Twitter using Mixero, her preferred Twitter client, she keeps getting messages like “API limit exceeded 10 mins to refresh”. So she wanted to know why this was happening and how she could get around it for uninterrupted twittering.

So I had another go at explaining the concept this morning in a 140 character Q&A session, but I’d like to go into more depth here, it seems to be a common cause for confusion.

First, a little background: Twitter is a young company, only 3 years old. Although they’ve had a lot of success in a very short time, it’s founders are wary of growing too fast too soon. Evan Williams and Biz Stone have decided to hire new staff gradually to preserve the unique company culture that makes Twitter a great place to work.

This also puts limits on the number of servers and infrastructure they can manage. Twitter is listening to thousands of tweets every second, storing them in a searchable database and serving them up, hundreds at a time to avid followers all over the world. The application and database servers that handle this data all need to be installed, monitored and maintained by people. So as twitter grows slowly, so does the infrastructure (I’m over simplifying a bit here for brevity).

Twitter API Up and Running

O'Reilly Media

But one of the cleverest things Twitter has done is give 3rd party programmers direct access to the database through a technology called API (Application Programming Interface). The twitter API makes the plethora of twitter clients and twitter utility sites possible. The downside is that as these apps and services become more popular the load on twitter’s infrastructure increases. So to prevent the servers becoming a victim of their own success an API limit was imposed.

The API limit is currently 150 calls per hour for each user or IP address, this means that if you open TweetDeck and hit refresh another 149 times in 40 mins you’ll be locked out by twitter for the remaining 20 mins until you get a fresh allotment.

In theory posting a new tweet dosen’t get charged from your limit, but most Apps like to show you the tweet you just posted. In order to be user friendly they send an API request for all new tweets in your timeline (including your own), right after your tweet has been sent, and this reduces your hourly allotment by 1 call.

If you want to reduce the number of API call you use, try changing the preferences in your client to send fewer requests, or reduce the number of search columns you use at once.

HootSuite Screenshot

HootSuite Screenshot

You could also try switching to HootSuite (I’m a user of HootSuite) which is a web based twitter client that has been white-listed by twitter. HootSuite gets an hourly allowance of 20,000 API requests!Obviously this allowance is shared among the many users of the site.

I’ve never had a problem with API limits on HootSuite, so I assume it’s able to intelligently throttle it’s requests. If it find it’s getting close to it’s 20,000 limit, the web app just refreshes your columns a little less often or puts users to sleep a little sooner to make it’s allotment last till the top of the hour. And if it’s not, it should be!

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4 Comments on “Twitter APIs”


  1. Great explanation, even I understand, the theory anyway!
    Many thanks.

  2. Nicky aka @nicchick Says:

    Hi Pete,

    Thank you for taking the time to explain this in person at TweetUp Marbella, on Twitter and now in this blog entry.

    Its great and makes more sense now.

    Still one more question. Why does the number of columns affect the APIs?

  3. ileaneb Says:

    Hi Pete,

    I am a HootSuite user and I have never encountered the API limit issue either. I think HootSuite is one of the better clients out there. Statistically TweetDeck has more users, but they don’t have stats. If you use the ow.ly link shortener in HootSuite you can track how many people are clicking on the links in your tweets.
    Thanks for the post, this is good information.


  4. HEY LIAM!!!! Im his bff at school! I cant believe I found him on the internet! :O Tell him I said hi from sarah!!nIm also at TMSA. Liam is very funny!ud83dude00 Hes in almost every period with me! He should go to the lock in! Click http://link.mx/hool08200


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