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Harnessing the Twitter API for an Online Radio Station

Posted in Communication,Music,Software,web by Joe Colburn on the March 14th, 2009

Some of you already know about things I do aside from this blog, and one of those things is a radio station I run called GotBlack Radio. The station plays gothic, industrial and electronic music and is mostly automated. I won’t get into all the details here, but the station is essentially just an ever-changing one-song playlist that is randomly re-generated via a PHP script that grabs a random track. I had a colleague modify an existing flash music player to my tastes and built the rest on my own.

Previously, I had gone with a couple different community-based platforms, but they either wanted to run ads or I had to run the station from a PC in my house or they just didn’t offer the level of control I wanted. Because of this series of cons I experiences, I decided to build my own radio platform, as simple as it is, giving me all the control and making it easy for me to add any feature I wanted. The best examples of this new-feature control have come recently in integrating the station with Twitter.

Why I integrated with Twitter
Some people still don’t know what Twitter is, and that’s understandable because people seem to have a hard time trying to explain it. Technically, it’s a micro-blogging platform. What that means is that a user writes just a snippet rather than a whole post like this. It’s like telling a whole bunch of people all at once what’s going on in one or two sentences. This seemed to me like the perfect place to let existing listeners know about radio updates while letting new people know about the station.

A little birdie told me
Every five minutes or so, GB Radio plays another track. While people could always sit and listen 24 hours a day to know what’s playing, most people don’t have the time. I took a little of the code I use in TwitterTech.com and plugged it into the custom PHP radio server code and in about 15 minutes, @gbradio was serving up updates on what was playing live. Now, instead of having to visit the site to see what’s playing, anyone on Twitter can simply follow the station for live updates.

Tweeting radio tracks

More than 40,000 updates later, it’s still running on its own without me having to even check up on it. Sadly, I hadn’t even logged into the Twitter account in months or told many people about it, but the account seems to be working for me. The updates have created searchable content for Twitter. This means that when someone searches for an artist’s name or a song title on Twitter and it’s an artist or track that I have in the music database, there’s a decent chance that person will come across a tweet from gbradio, finding a new station to listen to.

Tweet your request and hear it played
Sometimes you want to hear a particular piece of music and you just don’t want to wait. Before, I didn’t really have a request system in place because I just haven’t built the whole web interface for requests. Luckily, the Twitter API is dead simple, so I slapped together a request system in about 15 minutes and after another half hour of debugging (oops!), the request system was live.

Twitter radio request

The station doesn’t have a ton of followers yet, but as more and more join, it becomes clear that not only will my listeners benefit from the added functionality, but so will my follower (and listener) numbers.

Will code for followers
What happens when you add useful functionality to the web? Sometimes people notice and you reap the rewards. While my gbradio Twitter account isn’t exactly swimming in followers, it’s clear that the live updates are helping get it there.

Twitter stats for gbradio

Just to put things in perspective, when I created the account, I searched for and followed maybe 100 people who showed some interest in the music that’s played on the station. Like I noted above, though, I hadn’t even logged into the account in months. Looking at the graph above tells me that followers didn’t come in when I went looking for them, but with the new functionality, they’re just coming in on their own.

What’s next?
If you want to succeed at something you need to not only recognize your failures, but you must also pay attention to what works. What works here is programming to the wants and needs of the people who listen to the station and are also on Twitter. I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I’m open to ideas, especially since the API makes everything so terribly easy.

About the author

Joe Colburn Joe Colburn is a software engineer specializing in PHP and a technology enthusiast. Always eager to dive into new and exciting things, Joe writes about anything technology related news and products that he thinks you will also be excited about. Find Joe Colburn on Google+ or by any of the links below.

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6 Responses to 'Harnessing the Twitter API for an Online Radio Station'

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  1. on March 18th, 2009 at 3:09 am

    This is pretty much what I’m making now for people using twitter that want to run their own “radio station” but the catch is that is uses VERY little bandwidth on their end! So it is great for both small stations and large ones.

  2. Joe said,

    on March 18th, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Affordable Software: Are you building the whole system or just the Twitter interfacing?

  3. jack89 said,

    on May 3rd, 2009 at 6:12 am

    The most popular bird in Iceland is the Twitter bird :)


  4. on May 26th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    thats great that you are talking about the twitter api,a good example of searching with the twitter api is on twiogle.com because you can search on twitter and google at the same time.

  5. Clifford Feigel said,

    on January 31st, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I use Mass-Follow.com to submit my articles to like 400 places


  6. on February 14th, 2010 at 2:42 am

    I like twitter. Thanks for this news. Adana Radyolari


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