Need a quick means of seeing how many Twitter Followers you have?
I have just started to post on Twitter, and at the moment I am very much a Twitter novice. So far, I have only published a couple of Tweets, but I am beginning to be fascinated by the Twitter statistics. That might be a Nobby New Boy thing, but there is so much information to be had … and it excites! The response to my first couple of Tweets was good, which I wasn’t expecting. Beginner’s luck, maybe? The response to the next couple was not so good. The two formats were different so I guess that might explain it – anyway, there is so much to learn.
I will be talking about how I set up my Twitter presence in another post.
How do I count Twitter followers?
It’s good to have goals but more importantly, it’s helpful to be able to see how they are progressing. Real-time feedback helps to maintain the enthusiasm and the drive that you started with. But …how do you do that?
This post is all about showing how I made something to help visualise the Twitter. Background – I like making stuff and I found this on the internet. I made two on Sunday morning, in about an hour. I recognise that this is not for everyone as it does involve wires, electronic components and downloading code … and it could be a whole lot more difficult if the whole thing wasn’t driven by an Android app. So, if you have an Android phone to hand, this is probably not going to be that difficult, but you may need to find someone who can solder. Having said that, it’s not a difficult bit of soldering.
Twitter Follower Counter
I did say that I had only just started.
What’s it doing?
Twitter, and indeed, all internet services provide external, and internal, access to their systems via APIs. An API, or Application Program Interface, is a managed interface that allows some authorised third parties to access, and in some cases to manipulate, data.
Twitter provides an API that returns the number of followers that a specified Twitter user currently has following them. That’s what’s going on here. I ask the app to tell me how many followers there are for @BloogerMe, the app asks Twitter and then displays it on a dot matrix display.
The process is going on continuously and is updating in real-time.
How do I build a Twitter Follower Counter?
I’m glad that you asked me that.
I have to start by saying that the original idea is not my own. Whilst I could have come up with the requirement, there is no way that I could have put together the code to make it work. Thanks then to mansurkamsur at Bluino Electronics for doing the clever bit.
The Twitter Follower counter is actually one small part of a much bigger piece of cleverness, all of which is included in the downloadable code. It’s primarily a dot matrix clock with bells and whistles. I only needed one of the whistles but I have actually built three of these projects: there is one in the kitchen that shows the local weather (provided by openweathermap.org), there is one next to my desk showing the time and there is one in the window (facing inwards) showing the number of Twitter Followers for @BloogerMe.
The instructions, presented in a much nicer way than I can present them – but I am learning – can be found on the Instructables website. The link to the complete project is here but I am going to show you what I did. It’s not quite as neat but it still works.
What do I need?
I have a bit of a workbench in the garage. I made it out of an old set of kitchen cabinets and a new worktop. It’s not as neat and tidy as the ones that I see on YouTube but it does the job that I want it to do.
I got the 8×32 dot matrix display from a seller on eBay, which cost me around £6. I then got the Wemos D1 Mini, again from eBay, which cost around a fiver. I actually bought three of them and got a bit of a discount. However, one of them is now shagged so I am not sure it worked out to be that much of a good deal. I’ll let the seller know and we will see what happens.
All the bits of wire come with the display and the Wemos D1 mini comes with a selection of pegs and pins that can be fitted according to your needs. You can make this bit up as you go along.
A word to the wise, you will need an Android device that supports USB OTG (on-the-go). I am using my old htc M8 from the 1940s (hmmm!) and that supports it, so I am thinking that most will, probably. If you have an android device that supports USB OTG, you will need to get yourself a USB OTG adapter, which should set you back no more than a couple of quid.
You will also need some thin pliers, wire cutters, solder and a soldering iron, or maybe as I said earlier, a friend with a soldering iron.
If you have a 3D printer, you can complete the project with a 3D printed case, but as I don’t have one, I didn’t. Maybe later.
Twitter Follower Counter Components
All the components laid out on the bench, in a very tidy fashion, ready and waiting for construction.
Why should I build a Twitter Follower Counter
I am not an electronics expert, I am not an engineer, I am not a programmer. But … even though I might be none of these things, I am not going to let that stop me. Neither should you. The project is fairly simple and once you’ve managed to complete it, it’s really quite neat. Not only is it quite neat, it’s also quite functional and it will help you focus as you see the results of your efforts lighting up on a dot-matrix display, in real-time. The same project can also show your YouTube subscribers, Facebook Page likes and Instagram followers … and other stuff. Follow the Instructables link, the full list of capabilities is near the top.
Dismantling the Dot Matrix board
The 8×8 LED sections need to be unplugged from the base.
Look at the Dot Matrix board
I am assuming that you now have the dot matrix board in front of you. Looking at it from the back, you can see that it is made up of four identical, single boards that are connected together. More accurately, it is four individual boards manufactured as one, that haven’t yet been separated but that’s not really important.
At one end you can see 5 pins sticking out. These are the connectors and they come already soldered in place. They can also be used to connect with another dot matrix display to make one that is eight blocks wide. You bend the pins, feed them through the corresponding holes in the next board and then get your friend to solder them in place.
If you’re getting particularly excited about the prospect of the big display, I have to say that it’s not really that useful for the Twitter counter but the weather information looks cool.
At this point, there are options. I chose to bend the pins back in on themselves and then plug in the ends of the wires provided, the colour scheme is not important.
Removing the LED blocks
The individual 8×8 LED matrix blocks are just plugged into the base and can be removed. Each block has 16 pins that plug into 16 matching sockets and removal of the blocks must be completed gently, so as not to bend the pins. Bending the pins back into place is not the end of the world, but trying to realign misaligned pins is a pain. I generally use what is essentially a plastic blade. It’s the business end of a car trim removal tool but any soft-ish blade-like object will do – I have even used a plastic drink coaster. Prise up one side a little and then do the same on the other and little by little, they will part company.
Reassembling the Board
The four 8×8 dot-matrix blocks need to be reassembled because we needed to remove them in order to thread the wires underneath. There are alternative arrangements and one of these is shown on the Instructables instruction pages. Truth is that it’s not that important – as long as the correct wire at one end is also the correct wire at the other.
Assuming that the pins are all straight and aligned properly with the holes, the whole block should just drop into place, maybe with only the slightest bit of encouragement.
The blocks will fit either way, but the display will only work properly if it’s fitted the right way. I made that mistake and the display shows a repeating pattern of rectangles. I swapped them around and it works fine now, so I don’t think fitting them backwards can do that much damage. No guarantee though, so best get it right first time.
The dot-matrix blocks that I used are marked with a part number (1088AS) on one edge. In the Instructable instructions, they have a different mark (AYG) but it’s on the same side. You can see that the board I had shows the same part number adjacent to one of the sets of holes. The dot-matrix block is mounted with the part number (or whatever) away from the part number on the board or positioned at the opposite side of the board to the “IN” and “OUT” index. I think I may be making too much of this.
Plug and Play
Connecting the 5 wires that come with the dot matrix display to the dot matrix display. The colours are not important.
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Removing the dot-matrix blocks, bending (or re-aligning) the five connectors and then connecting the wires, followed by re-assembling the board is fairly easy. You should just be careful not to bend anything too far. Setting up the “brains” is a little more complicated as the Wemos D1 mini doesn’t come with any pins already soldered. I have looked on ebay and I can’t find any that do.
I have just had another look at the Instructables page and it mentions that the code can be uploaded and run on what is called a Node MCU. Once again, these things cost around a fiver, but they come with all the pins already soldered. The thing about the Node MCU and the Wemos D1 mini is that they are both development boards for the ESP8266, which is what is ultimately driving all this stuff.
The boards themselves provide the environment to support the ESP8266, ensuring that all the voltages and other clever stuff, like the USB interface, are correct. The Node MCU is slightly bigger, but if you really don’t want to be doing soldering and you would still like a Twitter Follower counter, this could be the solution – the pins are the same. I haven’t tested it, though I will do soon. I have used the two devices with the same code before, so I see no problem, but as I say, I haven’t tried this one.
Showing the path of the wires
Up to you but I have tried three different approaches and I think this arrangement is quite neat.
Wemos D1 mini
The Wemos D1 mini is delivered with a set of pins of various lengths and purposes, but none are soldered. This is for good reason as some projects will not require them. Desoldering and removing the pins, once in place is a pain and is also very likely to break the board.
So, the choice you have is either to solder the five wires directly to the Wemos D1 mini, or to solder the pins and then attach the wires to the pins.
As I mentioned, the alternative Node MCU comes with the pins already attached so the problem is essentially academic. You pay your money and you take your choice.
In the preamble to writing this post, I tried both Wemos D1 mini routes. I have a clock that uses the direct solder method and a Twitter Follower counter that uses the soldered pin approach. I found the soldered pin approach to be much easier than soldering the wires directly to the board, but the resulting piece of kit is bulkier, which is mainly due to the size of the wire connectors. You can see what I mean in one of the photographs lower down the page.
Loading the app
Downloading and commissioning the app is fairly straightforward unless you want to use the weather station feature, in which case it’s a bit more fiddly. The instructions are provided on the Instructable page. I am not going to expand here other than to say the reason for the fiddliness is the need to register on the OpenWeatherMap site and copy an API key across to the app, which is best done as a copy and paste exercise using the android phone.
The instructions will walk you through the process of setting up, and you will need the local wifi password to enable the processor to communicate with the outside world.
One point I would make is that the name of the Twitter Follower counter is shown on the display at startup. Write this down as you will need it to manage the functions. If you missed it, power cycle the board and start again. Then, on the app settings page, you will see an option to “Sync to ESP Matrix device”. Select this and enter the code that was shown on the dot matrix display, it will be of the format: em-xxxxx. I think the rest is fairly clear.
The Twitter Follower counter is configered from the app and you will only need to enter your Twitter user name.
Don’t be put off
I feel that I should say at this point that I am not a technical whizz kid! My background is in the social sciences, so don’t think this is beyond your capabilities for a moment.
I can do a little bit of coding and I can do some soldering. I can take things apart and I can even put them back together, mostly. What I am describing here isn’t rocket science, it looks a lot more complicated than it actually is, so have a go and let me know how you get on.
The underlying purpose of this whole blogsite is to help you go places you would like to go but don’t have the background know-how to be able to make that first step. I am not saying that all the answers are here, but I am saying that there s enough here to allow you to make a start.
Don’t listen to the 12-year old millionaires on YouTube. In fact don’t listen to anyone who talks about completing this stuff in 10, 20 or 30 minutes. You can certainly get to where you want to be, it’s just going to take time.
Completed Twitter Follower counter
Using the soldered pins is much easier than having to strip and solder each wire, but the finished product is bulkier.
I built these two displays on Sunday morning and they took me a couple of hours to complete.
For one of them, I soldered everything, which was fiddly. The fiddly bit is stripping the wire to the correct length so that everything lies flat when it’s completed. Snipping any of the wires in the wrong place means starting over because nothing then lines up.
For the other, I soldered the two sets of pins to the Wemos D1 mini and then just plugged the connectors together. To me, it felt a little bit like cheating but it did the job.
It’s now 10:28 on Sunday morning and I have 4 followers on Twitter.
The clock is now on a shelf, near to my desk, and the Twitter Follower counter is on the windowsill. One thing that I didn’t mention earlier is that these devices are powered via USB, so you will need a couple of power supplies. Most of us have some of these lying around the house but if not, a few quid will sort it out – careful of the very cheap ones.
I take the view that most of us can do most things, within reasn. I don’t think that I would want a plumber doing my heart surgery but I think you get the point. Turning a collection of electronic components into a Twitter Follower counter might look daunting to the inexperienced, but it is certainly not impossible. The same is true about building a blogging site. It might very well look daunting but if you break it down into bite-size chunks, each bite-size chunk becomes manageable.
You may or may not know it, but I am doing the same for building a blogging site. It is, indeed, daunting to begin with, but breaking it up into bite-size chunks makes a big difference. You need a list of stuff you will need to do, and a plan for doing it.
Subscribe to beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.blooger.me and I can provide you with a list of stuff that you will need to do, and a plan to go with it. I don’t think you will be surprised to learn that there are many more than 7 points to the plan! There are only seven points on YouTube videos.
At this time, I am still working on them but I shall be providing updates and insights along the way. I shall also be explaining why you need to do the stuff that you need to do. It’s not all about writing.
And we can all share the experiences, and learn.