Collecting Twitter Data: Introduction

Part I: Introduction [current page] | Part II: Getting Started | Part III: Using a Python Stream Listener | Part IV: Storing Tweets in MongoDB | Part V: Twitter JSON to CSV — Errors | Part VI: Twitter JSON to CSV — ASCII | Part VII: Twitter JSON to CSV — UTF-8


Collecting Twitter data is a great exercise in data science and can provide interesting insights in how people behave on the social media platform. Below is an overview of the steps to build a Twitter analysis from scratch. This tutorial will go through several steps to arrive at being able to analyze Twitter data.

  1. Overview of Twitter API does
  2. Get R or Python
  3. Install Twitter packages
  4. Get Developer API Key from Twitter
  5. Write Code to Collect Tweets
  6. Parse the Raw Tweet Data [JSON files]
  7. Analyze the Tweet Data

Introduction

Before diving into the technical aspects of how to use the Twitter API [Application Program Interface] to collect tweets and other data from their site, I want to give a general overview of what the Twitter API is and isn’t capable of doing. First, data collection on Twitter doesn’t necessarily produce a representative sample to make inferences about the general population. And people tend to be rather emotional and negative on Twitter. That said, Twitter is a treasure trove of data and there are plenty of interesting things you can discover. You can pull various data structures from Twitter: tweets, user profiles, user friends and followers, what’s trending, etc. There are three methods to get this data: the REST API, the Search API, and the Streaming API. The Search API is retrospective and allows you search old tweets [with severe limitations], the REST API allows you to collect user profiles, friends, and followers, and the Streaming API collects tweets in real time as they happen. [This is best for data science.] This means that most Twitter analysis has to be planned beforehand or at least tweets have to be collected prior to the timeframe you want to analyze. There are some ways around this if Twitter grants you permission, but the run-of-the-mill Twitter account will find the Streaming API much more useful.

The Twitter API requires a few steps:

  1. Authenticate with OAuth
  2. Make API call
  3. Receive JSON file back
  4. Interpret JSON file

The authentication requires that you get an API key from the Twitter developers site. This just requires that you have a Twitter account. The four keys the site gives you are used as parameters in the programs. The OAuth authentication gives your program permission to make API calls.

The API call is an http call that has the parameters incorporated into the URL like
https://stream.twitter.com/1.1/statuses/filter.json?track=twitter
This Streaming API call is asking to connect to Twitter and tracks the keyword ‘twitter’. Using prebuilt software packages in R or Python will hide this step from you the programmer, but these calls are happening behind the scenes.

JSON files are the data structure that Twitter returns. These are rather comprehensive with the amount of data, but hard to use without them being parsed first. Some of the software packages have built-in parsers or you can use a NoSQL database like MongoDB to store and query your tweets.

Get R or Python

While there are many different programing languages to interface with the API, I prefer to use either Python or R for any Twitter data scraping. R is easier to use out of the box if you are just getting started with coding, and Python offers more flexibility. If you don’t have either of these, I’d recommend installing then learning to do some basic things before tackling Twitter data.

Download R: http://cran.rstudio.com/
R Studio: http://www.rstudio.com/ [optional]

Download Python: https://www.python.org/downloads/

Install Twitter Packages

The easiest way to access the API is to install a software package that has prebuilt libraries that makes coding projects much simpler. Since this tutorial will primarily be focused on using the Streaming API, I recommend installing the streamR package for R or tweepy for Python. If you have a Mac, Python is already installed and you can run it from the terminal. I recommend getting a program to help you organize your projects like PyCharm, but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

R
[in the R environment]

Python
[in the terminal, assuming you have pip installed]

 


Part I: Introduction [current page] | Part II: Getting Started | Part III: Using a Python Stream Listener | Part IV: Storing Tweets in MongoDB | Part V: Twitter JSON to CSV — Errors | Part VI: Twitter JSON to CSV — ASCII | Part VII: Twitter JSON to CSV — UTF-8