How to Find Out Who‘s Popular on Twitter

And why there’s no point in doing it


It’s easy if you consider the whole Twitterverse. You just look at the number of followers, and you’ll get @katyperry, @justinbieber, and @BarackObama. No surprise there, right?

But what if you want to focus on a particular group of Twitter users? Let’s take the Hacker News community. Which are the most followed accounts by the HNers? This is not a trivial exercise and we need a different approach, but if you’re a HNer, the result will be just as predictable.

One approach to find out top most followed can be this 4 step process:

  1. Identify a source that defines your target group.
    For HNers that’s @newsyc20, @hackernewsbot, or @newsycombinator.
  2. Load target group members.
    These are the HNers — Twitter followers of the chosen source account.
  3. Load the friends of all target group members.
    “Friends” are the accounts that one Twitter user is following.
  4. Aggregate friends into top most followed.
    Count the number of target group members that follow each friend to obtain its popularity score within the target group.

The process described above is implemented in this GitHub repo https://github.com/ducu/twitter-most-followed. It’s Python and Redis. You can read about the implementation details and how the performance issues (Twitter API limits, Redis aggregation) were tackled on the README page.

By running the script with @newsyc20 as the source account, we find @TechCrunch, @BillGates, and @google as HNers’ top most followed. See the whole top 40 at the end of the post, no surprises there either.

This exercise shows exactly what Seth Godin is describing as the problem with hit radio. The web, including Twitter, keeps pushing the top 40 on us. Of course it’s us, as a whole, generating what’s popular. But every one of us, individually, has a different, personal “top” that we’re interested in.

Popular is not the same as interesting.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Twitter is the best social network today. By introducing the leader-follower pattern to social networking, it enabled us to expand and refine our reach, both as leaders and as followers. The problem is that finding what’s interesting takes a lot of hard manual work.

IMHO we are still in the early stages of social networking. But we are evolving, and eventually we’re going to get connected in a meaningful way.
I bet this is the next thing that everybody is looking for.


>>> top_most_followed(40) # by HNers (@newsyc20)
     | Popul | Foll  | Fri  |
Rank | arity | owers | ends | Name (@twitter)
---- | ------| ----- | ---- | ----------------------------------
1 | 12476 | 13K | 0 | Hacker News 20 (@newsyc20)
---- | ------| ----- | ---- | ----------------------------------
2 | 5266 | 3M | 872 | TechCrunch (@TechCrunch)
3 | 4600 | 17M | 165 | Bill Gates (@BillGates)
4 | 3921 | 8M | 411 | A Googler (@google)
5 | 3890 | 3M | 72 | WIRED (@WIRED)
6 | 3562 | 31M | 131 | Twitter (@twitter)
7 | 3488 | 4M | 2K | Mashable (@mashable)
8 | 3410 | 151K | 2K | The Hacker News (@TheHackersNews)
9 | 3219 | 45M | 648K | Barack Obama (@BarackObama)
10 | 2926 | 1M | 39 | Lifehacker (@lifehacker)
11 | 2894 | 12M | 985 | The New York Times (@nytimes)
12 | 2774 | 1M | 1K | Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly)
13 | 2666 | 5M | 111 | The Economist (@TheEconomist)
14 | 2652 | 2M | 1K | Jack (@jack)
15 | 2615 | 182K | 107 | Paul Graham (@paulg)
16 | 2604 | 864K | 36 | Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
17 | 2528 | 1M | 1K | The Next Web (@TheNextWeb)
18 | 2490 | 44M | 823 | YouTube (@YouTube)
19 | 2464 | 18M | 108 | CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk)
20 | 2451 | 340K | 184 | GitHub (@github)
21 | 2429 | 3M | 299 | TED Talks (@TEDTalks)
22 | 2414 | 25K | 0 | Hacker News Bot (@hackernewsbot)
23 | 2410 | 4M | 914 | Wall Street Journal (@WSJ)
24 | 2362 | 713K | 134 | Ars Technica (@arstechnica)
25 | 2361 | 36K | 332 | Hacker News Network (@ThisIsHNN)
26 | 2353 | 7M | 226 | NASA (@NASA)
27 | 2351 | 1M | 566 | Kevin Rose (@kevinrose)
28 | 2338 | 650K | 331 | marissamayer (@marissamayer)
29 | 2309 | 852K | 207 | Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt)
30 | 2300 | 169K | 111 | Y Combinator (@ycombinator)
31 | 2272 | 3M | 102 | Dropbox (@Dropbox)
32 | 2160 | 327K | 1K | VentureBeat (@VentureBeat)
33 | 2116 | 410K | 43K | Robert Scoble (@Scobleizer)
34 | 2098 | 1M | 3K | Fast Company (@FastCompany)
35 | 2058 | 55K | 120 | Household Hacker(@householdhacker)
36 | 2049 | 4M | 3K | Richard Branson (@richardbranson)
37 | 2046 | 1M | 2K | ReadWrite (@RWW)
38 | 2032 | 1M | 16K | Forbes Tech News (@ForbesTech)
39 | 2027 | 1M | 95 | Engadget (@engadget)
40 | 2006 | 34M | 17 | Instagram (@instagram)
>>>

Image: Dana Edelson / NBC / AP (via Mashable)