11 min read

Twitter is an online news and social media platform where users can post and interact with messages that are called tweets. It has around 328 million active monthly users worldwide, with around 317 million active monthly users tweeting around 500 million tweets every day (Statista 2017). Twitter is used by businesses as a tool for brand engagement, product announcements, and customer service.

This article is an excerpt from a book written by Srini Janarthanam titled Hands-On Chatbots and Conversational UI Development

In this article, we will explore the Twitter API and build core modules for tweeting, searching, and retweeting. We will further explore a data source for news around the globe and build a simple bot that tweets top news on its timeline.

Getting started with the Twitter app

To get started, let us explore the Twitter developer platform. Let us begin by building a Twitter app and later explore how we can tweet news articles to followers based on their interests:

  1. Log on to Twitter. If you don’t have an account on Twitter, create one.
  2. Go to Twitter Apps, which is Twitter’s application management dashboard.
  3. Click the Create New App button:
  1. Create an application by filling in the form providing name, description, and a website (fully-qualified URL). Read and agree to the Developer Agreement and hit Create your Twitter application:
  1. You will now see your application dashboard. Explore the tabs:
  1. Click Keys and Access Tokens:
  1. Copy consumer key and consumer secret and hang on to them.
  2. Scroll down to Your Access Token:
  1. Click Create my access token to create a new token for your app:
  1. Copy the Access Token and Access Token Secret and hang on to them.

Now, we have all the keys and tokens we need to create a Twitter app.

Building your first Twitter bot

Let’s build a simple Twitter bot. This bot will listen to tweets and pick out those that have a particular hashtag. All the tweets with a given hashtag will be printed on the console. This is a very simple bot to help us get started. In the following sections, we will explore more complex bots.

To follow along you can download the code from the book’s GitHub repository.
  1. Go to the root directory and create a new Node.js program using npm init:
  1. Execute the npm install twitter --save command to install the Twitter Node.js library:

Run npm install request --save to install the Request library as well. We will use this in the future to make HTTP GET requests to a news data source.

  1. Explore your package.json file in the root directory:
{
  "name": "twitterbot",
  "version": "1.0.0",
  "description": "my news bot",
  "main": "index.js",
  "scripts": {
    "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1"
  },
  "author": "",
  "license": "ISC",
  "dependencies": {
    "request": "^2.81.0",
    "twitter": "^1.7.1"
  }
}
  1. Create an index.js file with the following code:
//index.js
var TwitterPackage = require('twitter');
var request = require('request');

console.log("Hello World! I am a twitter bot!");

var secret = {
consumer_key: 'YOUR_CONSUMER_KEY',
consumer_secret: 'YOUR_CONSUMER_SECRET',
access_token_key: 'YOUR_ACCESS_TOKEN_KEY',
access_token_secret: 'YOUR_ACCESS_TOKEN_SECRET'
}

var Twitter = new TwitterPackage(secret);

In the preceding code, put the keys and tokens you saved in their appropriate variables. We don’t need the request package just yet, but we will later.

  1. Now let’s create a hashtag listener to listen to the tweets on a specific hashtag:
//Twitter stream
var hashtag = '#brexit'; //put any hashtag to listen e.g. #brexit
console.log('Listening to:' + hashtag);

Twitter.stream('statuses/filter', {track: hashtag}, function(stream) {
stream.on('data', function(tweet) {
console.log('Tweet:@' + tweet.user.screen_name + 
'\t' + tweet.text);
console.log('------') 
});
stream.on('error', function(error) {
console.log(error);
});
});

Replace #brexit with the hashtag you want to listen to. Use a popular one so that you can see the code in action.

  1. Run the index.js file with the node index.js command.
  2. You will see a stream of tweets from Twitter users all over the globe who used the hashtag:

Congratulations! You have built your first Twitter bot.

Exploring the Twitter SDK

In the previous section, we explored how to listen to tweets based on hashtags. Let’s now explore the Twitter SDK to understand the capabilities that we can bestow upon our Twitter bot.

Updating your status

You can also update your status on your Twitter timeline by using the following status update module code:

tweet ('I am a Twitter Bot!', null, null);
function tweet(statusMsg, screen_name, status_id){

console.log('Sending tweet to: ' + screen_name);
console.log('In response to:' + status_id);
var msg = statusMsg;
if (screen_name != null){
msg = '@' + screen_name + ' ' + statusMsg;
}
console.log('Tweet:' + msg);
Twitter.post('statuses/update', {
status: msg
}, function(err, response) {
// if there was an error while tweeting
if (err) {
console.log('Something went wrong while TWEETING...');
console.log(err);
}
else if (response) {
console.log('Tweeted!!!');
console.log(response)
}
}); 
}

Comment out the hashtag listener code and instead add the preceding status update code and run it. When run, your bot will post a tweet on your timeline:

In addition to tweeting on your timeline, you can also tweet in response to another tweet (or status update). The screen_name argument is used to create a response. tweet. screen_name is the name of the user who posted the tweet. We will explore this a bit later.

Retweet to your followers

You can retweet a tweet to your followers using the following retweet status code:

var retweetId = '899681279343570944';
retweet(retweetId);
function retweet(retweetId){
Twitter.post('statuses/retweet/', {
id: retweetId
}, function(err, response) {
if (err) {
console.log('Something went wrong while RETWEETING...');
console.log(err);
}
else if (response) {
console.log('Retweeted!!!');
console.log(response)
}
}); 
}

Searching for tweets

You can also search for recent or popular tweets with hashtags using the following search hashtags code:

search('#brexit', 'popular')
function search(hashtag, resultType){
    var params = {
        q: hashtag, // REQUIRED
        result_type: resultType,
        lang: 'en'
    }
Twitter.get('search/tweets', params, function(err, data) {
if (!err) {
console.log('Found tweets: ' + data.statuses.length);
console.log('First one: ' + data.statuses[1].text);
}
else {
console.log('Something went wrong while SEARCHING...');
}
});
}

Exploring a news data service

Let’s now build a bot that will tweet news articles to its followers at regular intervals. We will then extend it to be personalized by users through a conversation that happens over direct messaging with the bot. In order to build a news bot, we need a source where we can get news articles. We are going to explore a news service called NewsAPI.org in this section. News API is a service that aggregates news articles from roughly 70 newspapers around the globe.

Setting up News API

Let us set up an account with the News API data service and get the API key:

  1. Go to NewsAPI.org:
  1. Click Get API key.
  2. Register using your email.
  3. Get your API key.
  1. Explore the sources: https://newsapi.org/v1/sources?apiKey=YOUR_API_KEY.

There are about 70 sources from across the globe including popular ones such as BBC News, Associated Press, Bloomberg, and CNN. You might notice that each source has a category tag attached. The possible options are: business, entertainment, gaming, general, music, politics, science-and-nature, sport, and technology. You might also notice that each source also has language (en, de, fr) and country (au, de, gb, in, it, us) tags. The following is the information on the BBC-News source:

{
    "id": "bbc-news",
    "name": "BBC News",
    "description": "Use BBC News for up-to-the-minute news,
    breaking news, video, audio and feature stories. 
    BBC News provides trusted World and UK news as well as 
    local and regional perspectives. Also entertainment, 
    business, science, technology and health news.",
    "url": "http://www.bbc.co.uk/news",
    "category": "general",
    "language": "en",
    "country": "gb",
    "urlsToLogos": {
        "small": "",
        "medium": "",
        "large": ""
    },
    "sortBysAvailable": [
        "top"
        ]
}
  1. Get sources for a specific category, language, or country using:

https://newsapi.org/v1/sources?category=business&apiKey=YOUR_API_KEY

The following is the part of the response to the preceding query asking for all sources under the business category:

"sources": [
    {
        "id": "bloomberg",
        "name": "Bloomberg",
        "description": "Bloomberg delivers business 
        and markets news, data, analysis, and video 
        to the world, featuring stories from Businessweek 
        and Bloomberg News.",
        "url": "http://www.bloomberg.com",
        "category": "business",
        "language": "en",
        "country": "us",
        "urlsToLogos": {
            "small": "",
            "medium": "",
            "large": ""
        },
        "sortBysAvailable": [
        "top"
        ]
    },
    {
        "id": "business-insider",
        "name": "Business Insider",
        "description": "Business Insider is a fast-growing
        business site with deep financial, media, tech, and 
        other industry verticals. Launched in 2007, the 
        site is now the largest business news site on the web.",
        "url": "http://www.businessinsider.com",
        "category": "business",
        "language": "en",
        "country": "us",
        "urlsToLogos": {
            "small": "",
            "medium": "",
            "large": ""
        },
        "sortBysAvailable": [
        "top",
        "latest"
        ]
    },
    ...
]
  1. Explore the articles:

https://newsapi.org/v1/articles?source=bbc-news&apiKey=YOUR_API_KEY

The following is the sample response:

"articles": [
    {
        "author": "BBC News",
        "title": "US Navy collision: Remains found in 
                 hunt for missing sailors",
        "description": "Ten US sailors have been missing since Monday's 
                collision with a tanker near Singapore.",
        "url": "http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-41013686",
        "urlToImage": 
        "https://ichef1.bbci.co.uk/news/1024/cpsprodpb/80D9/
                       production/_97458923_mediaitem97458918.jpg",
        "publishedAt": "2017-08-22T12:23:56Z"
    },
    {
        "author": "BBC News",
        "title": "Afghanistan hails Trump support in 'joint struggle'",
        "description": "President Ghani thanks Donald Trump for 
                       supporting Afghanistan's battle against the  
                       Taliban.",
        "url": "http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41012617",
        "urlToImage": 
        "https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/1024x576/p05d08pf.jpg",
        "publishedAt": "2017-08-22T11:45:49Z"
    },
    ...
]

For each article, the author, title, description, url, urlToImage,, and publishedAt fields are provided. Now that we have explored a source of news data that provides up-to-date news stories under various categories, let us go on to build a news bot.

Building a Twitter news bot

Now that we have explored News API, a data source for the latest news updates, and a little bit of what the Twitter API can do, let us combine them both to build a bot tweeting interesting news stories, first on its own timeline and then specifically to each of its followers:

  1. Let’s build a news tweeter module that tweets the top news article given the source. The following code uses the tweet() function we built earlier:
topNewsTweeter('cnn', null);
function topNewsTweeter(newsSource, screen_name, status_id){
request({
url: 'https://newsapi.org/v1/articles?source='
+ newsSource + 
'&apiKey=YOUR_API_KEY',
method: 'GET'
},
function (error, response, body) {
//response is from the bot
if (!error && response.statusCode == 200) {
var botResponse = JSON.parse(body);
console.log(botResponse);
tweetTopArticle(botResponse.articles, screen_name);
} else {
console.log('Sorry. No new');
}
});
}
function tweetTopArticle(articles, screen_name, status_id){
var article = articles[0];
tweet(article.title + " " + article.url, screen_name);
}

Run the preceding program to fetch news from CNN and post the topmost article on Twitter:

Here is the post on Twitter:

  1. Now, let us build a module that tweets news stories from a randomly-chosen source in a list of sources:
function tweetFromRandomSource(sources, screen_name, status_id){
    var max = sources.length;
    var randomSource = sources[Math.floor(Math.random() * 
                              (max + 1))];
    //topNewsTweeter(randomSource, screen_name, status_id);
}
  1. Let’s call the tweeting module after we acquire the list of sources:
function getAllSourcesAndTweet(){
    var sources = [];
    console.log('getting sources...')
    request({
            url: 'https://newsapi.org/v1/sources?
                 apiKey=YOUR_API_KEY',
                 method: 'GET'
        },
        function (error, response, body) {
            //response is from the bot
            if (!error && response.statusCode == 200) {
                // Print out the response body
                var botResponse = JSON.parse(body);
                for (var i = 0; i 
  1. Let’s create a new JS file called tweeter.js. In the tweeter.js file, call getSourcesAndTweet() to get the process started:
//tweeter.js
var TwitterPackage = require('twitter');
var request = require('request');

console.log("Hello World! I am a twitter bot!");
var secret = {
consumer_key: 'YOUR_CONSUMER_KEY',
consumer_secret: 'YOUR_CONSUMER_SECRET',
access_token_key: 'YOUR_ACCESS_TOKEN_KEY',
access_token_secret: 'YOUR_ACCESS_TOKEN_SECRET'
}

var Twitter = new TwitterPackage(secret);
getAllSourcesAndTweet();
  1. Run the tweeter.js file on the console. This bot will tweet a news story every time it is called. It will choose top news stories from around 70 news sources randomly.

Hurray! You have built your very own Twitter news bot. In this tutorial, we have covered a lot. We started off with the Twitter API and got a taste of how we can automatically tweet, retweet, and search for tweets using hashtags. We then explored a News source API that provides news articles from about 70 different newspapers. We integrated it with our Twitter bot to create a new tweeting bot.

If you found this post useful, do check out the book, Hands-On Chatbots and Conversational UI Development, which will help you explore the world of conversational user interfaces.

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