Streaming Websites to Twitter

Here at Redfin, we’ve been thinking a lot lately about Twitter as a development platform. The problem with that platform today is that nearly all Twitter applications are applications for using Twitter, not applications that use Twitter for doing something else.

Redfin, for example, doesn’t want to build another Twitter client. We want to build a Twitter-powered real estate application, that allows our users to follow a neighborhood on Twitter. Any new listing, new sale, price change, agent insight or market update would show up as a tweet in neighborhood followers’ timelines.

This would broaden Redfin’s reach, and give users an easy way to see what’s new in the market in real-time, without our having to ask anyone to register an account, define her own queries, or even open an email. Even better, Redfin users could get text-message alerts via Twitter when a new listing came on the market.

To support this, Twitter would have to build a high-scale system for bulk creation and administration of tens of thousands of Twitter accounts, one in our case for each neighborhood, which I believe Twitter will support one day soon. And the load imposed on Twitter would also be imposed on Redfin, as would have to process queries against every neighborhood, every few minutes. Twitter’s real-time scale challenges would become challenges for the whole Web to solve.

But it would be worth it. As Cloudera’s Jeffrey Hammerbacher recently noted in an engineer-to-engineer talk at Redfin on Hadoop, machines produce far more data than people ever will.

The possibilities for Twitter-ifying the Web are endless, as almost any series of events recorded on the web could become a Twitter stream: every time the Cal football team scores, whenever a friend uploads a photo to Flickr, or a customer lodges a complaint, I want it in my timeline. If Twitter is really going to be the pulse of the planet, it has to let websites — not just people — create and manage millions of accounts.

Twitter, I hope you take the plunge.  If you do, the real-time web could  increase in size by an order of magnitude.

UPDATE: Robbie Allen at StatSheets responds to our post, explaining that the company tried to deliver exactly what we wanted for sports enthusiasts, which Twitter initially discouraged and then embraced.


  • Evan Jacobs

    I would be interested in following a Redfin Twitter account for my neighborhood (and maybe a couple of others) just for general news and trends. However, if I were interested in buying/selling then I would be more interested to see listings that matched a set of criteria (e.g. price, size) across a number of neighborhoods (“horizontal” listings) than all of the listings in a single neighborhood (“vertical” listings).

    This functionality could be achieved by a single Twitter-enabled app where I could set my criteria and receive a DM whenever a new listing matched those criteria.

    • GlennKelman

      Exactly Evan. In many ways, we'd implement the feature as we've implemented the RSS capability for saved searches, which allow you to specify any number of criteria. But we wanted to avoid the silly “RSS is dead” debate at all costs.

  • Robbie Paplin

    RSS is simpler to implement and scales better though. The problem is that RSS is kind of geeky & invisible to the general public.

    If every company created tens of thousands of Twitter accounts doing the same thing, I think we'll see a lot more fail whales. Twitter has enough problems keeping up with Justin Beiber traffic, let alone something useful.

    • GlennKelman

      Yeah, scale has always been Twitter's problem Robbie… and user-friendliness has always been the issue with RSS. Have you ever tried to get your Mom to subscribe to RSS feeds? I have….

      • Robbie Paplin

        Perhaps I'm overly techie & optimistic, but if your smart enough to bookmark a web site, your smart enough to subscribe to an RSS feed. I think it's more an education & marketing problem than technology problem w/ RSS per se. Kinda like the world wide web before search engines (remember Gopher and Veronica anyone)?

        I think the biggest problems with RSS is that it's hard to find. There is no well known Google or Bing service for finding new RSS feeds. Which means you can only find feeds for the sites you already know about. We have image search, why not an RSS feed search?

        I think the second biggest problem is that RSS is hard to notice. Browsers support it unevenly. Firefox & IE agreed on common icons (the orange RSS icon) to help drive adoption, but Apple did their own thing (blue RSS text in the address bar). Worse yet, Google Chrome doesn't support RSS at all (which is odd considering Google Reader is pretty popular). Furthermore, all web browsers are poor for reading a collection of feeds (which Twitter and stand alone applications do rather well).

        Browser vendor attempts to let users subscribe to part of a web page might be easier for end users to understand, if the vendors can agree on an approach. Microsoft IE8 intoduced WebSlices (which require site authors to modify their markup, but works well) and Apple Safari's has Web Clips (which made the opposite trade off, work everywhere, but it's breaks easily).

        Maybe somebody needs to write a combined Web Clips / RSS / Twitter client and shrink the distinction between them?

  • Marc

    Problem is its there platform and its hard to get them to change their platform (geared towards individuals vs websites/companies etc). But they could change it. Its probably because there are 7 billion people on the planet and a lot fewer companies or websites so they targeted the biggest audience possible.

    • GlennKelman

      Very good point, but I actually think if Twitter allowed websites to create accounts, there would be more machine-generated accounts than people-created accounts.

  • GlennKelman

    Very good point, but I actually think if Twitter allowed websites to create accounts, there would be more machine-generated accounts than people-created accounts.

  • Shayan Hamidi

    I like your points Glen and think twitter could be powerful in powering other sites … not sure if you have seen, I came across it the other day myself, it helps you pull info from your twitter account and those you follow to make a daily newspaper … I have a startup,, and made a daily paper for it, its pretty cool how takes advantage of twitter to better present the feeds and make something useful out of them for other people