Generate an RSS feed from a Twitter user timeline

I needed to generate a valid RSS feed from a Twitter user’s timeline, but only for tweets that matched a certain pattern. Here’s how I did it using PHP.

First, I added the dependency on the TwitterOAuth library by Abraham Williams:

$ composer require abraham/twitteroauth

This library will handle all of my communication and authentication with Twitter’s API. Then I created a read-only app in my Twitter account and securely noted the four key authentication items I would need, the consumer API token and secret, and the access token and secret.

Now, I can quickly bring recent tweets from my target Twitter user into a PHP variable:

require "/path/to/vendor/autoload.php" ;
use Abraham\TwitterOAuth\TwitterOAuth;

$consumerKey       = "your_key_goes_here"; // Consumer Key
$consumerSecret    = "your_secret_goes_here"; // Consumer Secret
$accessToken       = "your_token_goes_here"; // Access Token
$accessTokenSecret = "your_token_secret_goes_here"; // Access Token Secret

$twitter_username    = 'wearrrichmond';

$connection = new TwitterOAuth( $consumerKey, $consumerSecret, $accessToken, $accessTokenSecret );

// Get the 10 most recent tweets from our target user, excluding replies and retweets
$statuses = $connection->get(
	'statuses/user_timeline',
	array(
		"count" => 10,
		"exclude_replies" => true,
		'include_rts' => false,
		'screen_name' => $twitter_username,
	)
);

My specific use case is that my local public school system doesn’t publish an RSS feed of news updates on its website, but it does tweet those updates with a somewhat standard pattern: the headline of the announcement, possibly followed by an at-mention and/or image, and then including a link back to a PDF file on their website that lives in a certain directory. I wanted to capture these items for use on another site I created to aggregate local news headlines into one place, and it mostly relies on the presence of an RSS feed.

So, I only want to use the tweets that match this pattern in the custom RSS feed. Here’s that snippet:

// For each tweet returned by the API, loop through them
foreach ( $statuses as $tweet ) {

	$permalink = '';
	$title     = '';

	// We only want tweets with URLs
	if ( ! empty( $tweet->entities->urls ) ) {

		// Look for a usable permalink that matches our desired URL pattern, and use the last (or maybe only) one
		foreach ( $tweet->entities->urls as $url ) {

			if ( false !== strpos( $url->expanded_url, 'rcs.k12.in.us/files', 0 ) ) {
				$permalink = $url->expanded_url;

			}
		}

		// If we got a usable permalink, go ahead and fill out the rest of the RSS item
		if ( ! empty( $permalink ) ) {

			// Set the title value from the Tweet text
			$title = $tweet->text;

			// Remove links
			$title = preg_replace( '/\bhttp.*\b/', '', $title );

			// Remove at-mentions
			$title = preg_replace( '/\@\w+\b/', '', $title );

			// Remove whitespace at beginning and end
			$title = trim( $title );

			// TODO: Add the item to the feed here

		}
	}
}

Now we have just the tweets we want, ready to add to an RSS feed. We can use the included SimplePie library to do this. In my case, the final output is written to an output text file, which another part of my workflow can then query.

Here’s the final result all put together:

<?php

/**
 * Generate an RSS feed from a Twitter user's timeline
 * Chris Hardie <chris@chrishardie.com>
 */

require "/path/to/vendor/autoload.php" ;
use Abraham\TwitterOAuth\TwitterOAuth;

$consumerKey       = "your_key_goes_here"; // Consumer Key
$consumerSecret    = "your_secret_goes_here"; // Consumer Secret
$accessToken       = "your_token_goes_here"; // Access Token
$accessTokenSecret = "your_token_secret_goes_here"; // Access Token Secret

$twitter_username    = 'wearrrichmond';
$rss_output_filename = '/path/to/www/rcs-twitter.rss';

$connection = new TwitterOAuth( $consumerKey, $consumerSecret, $accessToken, $accessTokenSecret );

// Get the 10 most recent tweets from our target user, excluding replies and retweets
$statuses = $connection->get(
	'statuses/user_timeline',
	array(
		"count" => 10,
		"exclude_replies" => true,
		'include_rts' => false,
		'screen_name' => $twitter_username,
	)
);

$xml = new SimpleXMLElement( '<rss/>' );
$xml->addAttribute( 'version', '2.0' );
$channel = $xml->addChild( 'channel' );

$channel->addChild( 'title', 'Richmond Community Schools' );
$channel->addChild( 'link', 'http://www.rcs.k12.in.us/' );
$channel->addChild( 'description', 'Richmond Community Schools' );
$channel->addChild( 'language', 'en-us' );

// For each tweet returned by the API, loop through them
foreach ( $statuses as $tweet ) {

	$permalink = '';
	$title     = '';

	// We only want tweets with URLs
	if ( ! empty( $tweet->entities->urls ) ) {

		// Look for a usable permalink that matches our desired URL pattern, and use the last (or maybe only) one
		foreach ( $tweet->entities->urls as $url ) {

			if ( false !== strpos( $url->expanded_url, 'rcs.k12.in.us/files', 0 ) ) {
				$permalink = $url->expanded_url;

			}
		}

		// If we got a usable permalink, go ahead and fill out the rest of the RSS item
		if ( ! empty( $permalink ) ) {

			// Set the title value from the Tweet text
			$title = $tweet->text;

			// Remove links
			$title = preg_replace( '/\bhttp.*\b/', '', $title );

			// Remove at-mentions
			$title = preg_replace( '/\@\w+\b/', '', $title );

			// Remove whitespace at beginning and end
			$title = trim( $title );

			$item = $channel->addChild( 'item' );
			$item->addChild( 'link', $permalink );
			$item->addChild( 'pubDate', date( 'r', strtotime( $tweet->created_at ) ) );
			$item->addChild( 'title', $title );

			// For the description, include both the original Tweet text and a full link to the Tweet itself
			$item->addChild( 'description', $tweet->text . PHP_EOL . 'https://twitter.com/' . $twitter_username . '/status/' . $tweet->id_str . PHP_EOL );

		}
	}
}

$rss_file = fopen( $rss_output_filename, 'w' ) or die ("Unable to open $rss_output_filename!" );
fwrite( $rss_file, $xml->asXML() );
fclose( $rss_file );

exit;

Here’s the same thing as a gist on GitHub.

I set this script up to run via cronjob every hour, which gives me a regularly updated feed based on the Twitter account’s activity.

Several ways this could be improved include:

  • Better escaping and sanitizing of the data that comes back from Twitter
  • Make the filtering of the Tweets more tolerant to changes in the target user’s Tweet structure
  • Genericizing the functionality to support querying multiple Twitter accounts and generating multiple corresponding output feeds
  • Fixing Twitter so that RSS feeds of user timelines are offered on the platform again

If you find this helpful or have a variation on this concept that you use, let me know in the comments!

Put all those email newsletters in an RSS feed

The other day someone told me that they think blogging is dead.

I tried to suppress the sounds of existential pain emanating from deep within my soul, but it still hurt.

Blogging is far from dead, but I also recognize that email newsletters are all the hotness right now when it comes to getting your written thoughts in front of someone else. And I recognize that if you want to follow some kinds of updates from some kinds of people or organizations, you’re going to have to do the email thing.

For a while, I used email filters to manage this issue, dutifully creating or updating them in my setup each time I cringe-fully subscribed to a new email newsletter list after searching in vain for an RSS feed subscribe button. Then I would let them all go into just the right email folder (or maybe even still my inbox) so I could read them when I was in the mood to read blog-posts-as-email-messages on a given subject.

Ugh.

I didn’t like that this approach still created a kind of additional email “to do” burden on me, leaving me with folders to sort, search through and clear out. Newsletter content is usually not actionable or time-sensitive. What I really wanted was to treat all those email newsletter messages like blog post headlines in a separate kind of reader app, available to be read at my leisure. YOU KNOW, LIKE AN RSS FEED READER.

So here’s my current setup:

  1. newsletter emails go to a dedicated email alias configured at my mail provider, and that’s what I subscribe to lists with
  2. those messages are forwarded to a Zapier-powered recipe that converts them into items on a custom generated RSS feed
  3. I subscribe to the RSS feed in my feed reader, Feedly.

Now I can browse the headlines when I want to, read some items and gloss over others, and my email inbox is no longer crowded with articles that aren’t necessarily actionable or time-sensitive for me.

A few things I could do to tweak this setup further:

  • Right now all of my email newsletters go into a single RSS feed. For better categorization and readability, I could break these out into individual feeds.
  • The translation of HTML-only emails (another annoying thing about the email newsletter age) doesn’t always work well into the RSS feed format as supported by Zapier. I haven’t really explored a fix for this but it hasn’t affected me much so far.

Also note that Zapier’s pricing structure is such that depending on the number of incoming messages you have, you might need to upgrade to a paid plan.

That’s it. My email inbox has benefitted greatly from this setup, and I hope yours will too.