I have been watching YouTube videos and I have seen YouTube subscriber counters in the background of some scenes. I thought it might be a nice idea to have a similar sort of contraption for counting Twitter followers. I have recently updated my Twitter home page with some graphics designed using Snappa – which I think is brilliant – and now that I am going to be doing the tweeting, I would like a Twitter follower counter.
How many Twitter Followers do you have?
There are quite a few websites that can provide updates on your popularity across social media. Most of them can count your Twitter followers and display the number on a dashboard. If you want something a little bit more snazzy, that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, why not have a go at building one using a dot matrix display and a Wemos D1?
I have just started to twit a bit on Twitter, so I am very much a bit of a Twitter novice. To date, I have twitted only a couple of Tweets, but I am starting to be fascinated by the statistics. It might be a Nobby New Boy thing, but there is a lot of information to be had … and it excites! 👌
I will be talking about how I set up my Twitter presence in another post.
The response to my first couple of Tweets was pretty 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 much to learn, but I’d like to be able to see how I’m doing with a Twitter follower counter.
It’s good to have goals, and it’s helpful to be able to see how they are progressing.
Real-time feedback keeps the enthusiasm going … but how do you do that?
How do you count your Twitter followers?
This post is all about showing how I made a little something to help me see my Twitter follower progress.
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 hard, but you may need to find someone who can solder. Having said that, it’s not a difficult bit of soldering.
How does a Twitter follower counter count Twitter followers?
All internet services, including Twitter, provide internal and external access to their systems via APIs. An API, or Application Program Interface, is a managed interface that allows authorised third parties to access data. In some cases, authorised third parties are also allowed to manipulate the data.
Twitter provides an API that returns the number of Twitter followers that a specified Twitter user currently has following them. That’s what’s going on here. I ask the app to update the Twitter Follower Counter for @BloogerMe, the app asks Twitter using the API and then displays the response on a 32×8 dot matrix display.
The process is going on continuously and looks like it’s updating in near real-time.
Clearly, what is going on at the low level of the programming code is complex … but it isn’t necessary to know how it works, only how to use it. You don’t need to understand the design of the internal combustion engine to drive a car.
It’s all fairly simple.
Can I build a Twitter Follower Counter?
I’m glad that you asked me that … yes you can!
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 – the Twitter Follower Counter – but I have actually completed 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 me the time and there is one in the window (facing inwards) showing the number of Twitter Followers for @BloogerMe.
The directions are here on the Instructables website. They are presented in a much nicer way than I can present them, but I’ll show you what I did – it’s not quite as neat but it still works.
Why not have a go?
What will I need to build a Twitter Follower Counter?
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 then I’m not in the business of making YouTube videos in my garage – it does the job that I want it to do.
I got the 32×8 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. They are all easy to come by. I 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. As long as the connections go to the right place, you can make the rest up as you go along. 👍
If you can speak foreign, there’s a site where I think you can get yourself a kit. Have a look and check it out, I think it works out at around £16 and it looks like it might include the case.
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.
There is no iOS option.
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 – or you could have a look at the kit.
Building a Twitter Follower Counter
I am not an electronics expert, I am not an engineer, I am not a programmer … but I am not going to let that stop me!
Neither should you.
The project is fairly simple and once you’ve completed it, the result is really quite neat. It’s also quite functional and will happily sit and count your Twitter Followers all day. It all helps your focus as you see the results of your efforts lighting up on a bright red dot-matrix display – in real-time.
You can also use the same project to count your YouTube subscribers, Facebook Page likes and Instagram followers … and that’s not all it can do.
Follow the Instructables link for the full list of project capabilities (near the top), a list of components and a set of step-by-step instructions.
Construction isn’t particularly difficult.
Looking at the Dot Matrix board
If you have the dot matrix board in front of you, turn it over and look at it from the back. You can see that it is made up of four identical, single boards that are connected together. More precisely, it is made of four individual boards that were manufactured as one, which can be separated if the project calls for it but we don’t need to.
No connecting up is required as the individual boards are already connected … easy!
At one end you can see 5 pins sticking out – if you look, you can see them in the photo above. These are the connectors for the Wemos D1 and they are already soldered in place. They can also be used to connect with another dot matrix display to make one that is eight blocks wide – a 64×8 dot matrix display. If you’re going to make a 64×8 display, which is what you’ll want to do if you’re going to display the weather, you will need to bend the pins, feed them through the corresponding holes in the next board and then get your friend to solder them in place. The bigger display is not really that useful for the Twitter counter but the weather information looks cool.
The 8×8 LED dot matrix sections need to be seperated from their base.
Preparing the Dot Matrix board
The individual 8×8 LED matrix blocks are just plugged into the baseboards and can be removed. Each block has 16 pins that plug into 16 matching sockets and the blocks should be unplugged 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 bit of a pain. I generally use what is really just 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 … little by little, they will come apart.
At this point, I am assuming that we are sticking with the 32×8 dot-matrix configuration. There are other options, at may or may not involve soldering, but I am choosing to bend the pins back on themselves so that I can then plug in the wires provided.
Bending the pins back means that they don’t stick out of the side of the display, which makes the whole thing neater and more stable.
The wires are then connected like this – the wiring colour scheme isn’t important.
Note: In these pictures, I have only removed one of the 8×8 display modules. All four need to be removed so that the wires can be secured underneath.
Reassembling the Dot Matrix Board
The four 8×8 dot-matrix blocks need to be reinserted after being removed to allow us to thread the wires underneath. There are alternative possibilities and one of these is shown on the Instructables pages. Truth is that it’s not that important – as long as the leads are connected to the correct pins.
Assuming that the pins are all straight and aligned properly with the holes, each LED block should just drop into place … maybe with just the slightest bit of encouragement.
The blocks will physically fit either way, but the display will only work properly if it’s alignment is correct. 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 I would recommend checking and getting it right the 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. Perhaps I am making too much of this.
The Blogging Beginner
The “brains” behind the Twitter Follower Counter
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 involved as the Wemos D1 mini doesn’t come with any of its pins already soldered. I have looked on eBay and I can’t find any that come with the pins already soldered, I’ve checked elsewhere too.
I have just had another look at the Instructables page and it mentions that the code can be uploaded and run on 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 Twitter follower counter solution for you – the pins are the same. I haven’t tested it, though I will have a go soon. I have used the two devices with the same code before, so I can’t foresee any problems, but as I say, I haven’t tried this.
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.
I chose the latter option.
As I already mentioned, the alternative Node MCU comes with the pins already attached so the problem with the Node MCU 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 the photograph below.
Downloading the Twitter Follower Counter 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 for the weather option – and everything else – are provided on the Instructable page. I am not going to expand here other than to say the reason for the weather option 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 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.
The Android app walks you through every step of the process, including the wiring diagrams.
One point I would make is that the device 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 on your Android device. 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.
Finishing Up the Twitter Follower Counter
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.
I don’t think they look bad. If I ever get myself a 3D Printer, I’ll print a couple of cases but until then …
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 USB power supplies. Most of us have some of these lying around the house but if not, a few quid will sort it out – be careful of the very cheap ones.
I take the view that most of us can do most things … within reason. I don’t think that I would want Bert the 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 if you just take it one step at a time.
The same is true for building a blogging site.
Are you new to blogging?
Maybe the idea of a Twitter Follower Counter has inspired you to attract some twitter followers.
Taking the first steps to blogging will have you counting twitter followers in no time – and anyone can have a go.
Building a blog might very well look daunting but if you break it down into bite-size chunks, each bite-size chunk becomes manageable.
Writing a blog post might appear daunting – to begin with – but breaking it up into bite-size chunks makes all the difference.
Most established bloggers write blogging advice for bloggers who know how to blog. Most beginners need advice written for beginners.
You need a list of stuff that you will need to do, and you will need a plan for doing it.
Then you can take the first step.
— Now that You’re here —
You’re just getting started as a blogger
… and you’re looking for somewhere to begin
Click on the WhiteBoard
Proper step by step guidance.