ThinkBack, Playing with ThinkUp's New API

The newest beta of ThinkUp adds an API to the app for the first time, allowing developers to easily build apps on top of data coming from ThinkUp.

The JSON API was created by Sam Rose, a 20-year-old student from Wales and an active contributor in the ThinkUp community. His 7,000 line contribution — composed of 40% new tests and 40% documentation — earned him first place in the ThinkUp bounty contest and a brand new iPad 2. Congrats, Sam!

I thought it’d be fun to try building a hack with his new API, so I made a simple visualization of your entire Twitter archives in ThinkUp — ThinkBack, a ThinkUp-powered time capsule. Take a look at my history, or on the @whitehouse account to get the gist.

ThinkBack analyzes your entire Twitter history, extracts entities from the text, and colors them based on category. Grouped by month, it also gives you a quick glimpse at your posting activity over time.

For the entity extraction, I used an excellent free web service called AlchemyAPI to extract people, places, events, product names and other keywords from everything I’ve ever posted. They provide a category for each, which I assigned a color.

I also tested two other free web services that offer entity extraction, text-processing.com and Zemanta. Finding and categorizing keywords from short status updates is no small feat, but AlchemyAPI does a remarkable job. (If you’d like to play around with all three, support for both Zemanta and text-processing.com is commented out in the source code, but easily swappable with AlchemyAPI.)

ThinkBack also uses four typefaces from Google Web Fonts, my first time using them and dead simple to implement. For free fonts, the quality’s surprisingly great, with several faces commissioned by Google itself. For a quick, free hack, it’s a great alternative to Typekit.

I also used a very simple PHP templating language called RainTPL, which I chose as a lightweight alternative to Smarty. In practice, I found it too simple. Its handling of complex data structures and loops required me to jump through hoops that shouldn’t be necessary. (I’ll stick with Smarty next time.)

Anyway, you can download the code here, it only requires PHP and access to a recent version of ThinkUp. Feel free to fork it and submit a pull request for anything you add!

One thought on “ThinkBack, Playing with ThinkUp's New API

  1. Great use of the API, I’ve tried on on about 10 of our accounts in the last 20min and it’s visually stunning. I was wondering, do you know of other examples of the API being used. I’ve been googling but haven’t really found anything. We’ve got two devs but they’re pretty useless in the imagination department so I’d love to throw some examples at them to get their juices flowing.

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