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Let’s face it, the Twitter search sucks and you’ll be lucky to find tweets over a week old with it even though they still exist.
Twitter has been plagued with service issues and the fail whale (which someone coded in pure CSS) is a regular occurrence once again.
I came across a tutorial the other day on how to create a browsable, searchable archive of tweets which you can use to host your own tweets. And the best part is? It’s powered by WordPress.
In this article, I’ll go over my experience with how I set up my own @themelab tweet archive powered by WordPress, including:
- Backing up my tweets with a third-party service
- Importing those older tweets into WordPress
- Setting it up so new tweets get imported automatically
- Installing the theme to display them nicely
Backup Your Tweets
The first step is to backup your tweets. There are a few third-party services to do this, I personally used TweetBackup with good success. It’s important to remember not to expect to backup all of your tweets.
I was only able to grab 910 out of over 6000+ at the time. Even using other Twitter backup services, the same number of tweets were backed up which suggests it’s a limitation by Twitter itself. It’s best to backup as soon as possible, especially if you’re a frequent tweeter.
I had some issues logging into TweetBackup at first but eventually it worked. If you get frustrated you could also try BackupMyTweets.com. It’s worth noting that BackupMyTweets makes you “pay” by posting a tweet promoting their service. If that’s too painful for you (it’s pretty painless, I promise) you also have the option of paying $9.95 per year.
After the backup process is complete, look for the “export” option and save as RSS. You should have an XML file with all the tweets that were salvageable. The next step is to import those into WordPress.
Import Tweets to WordPress
First of all, it’s suggested you create a new WordPress installation for your tweet archive so you don’t have to worry about separating it from the rest of your normal WordPress content. I personally used a subdomain so it wouldn’t interfere with any permalinks from the blog.
The next step is to browse to Tools→Import and select the “RSS” option.
On the next screen, upload the XML file you just grabbed from whatever tweet backer-upper service you just used. Your tweets should now be loaded in your WordPress site.
- Obvious Tip: Assuming this is a new WordPress installation, you’ll probably want to delete the “Hello World!” post.
- Not So Obvious Tip: Since tweets from the backup file are formatted like “username: tweet message is here” (i.e. “themelab: My actual tweet is displayed here”) you might want to use the Search Regex plugin to delete this. Just replace “username: ” in post content and remember to include the space after.
Automatically Grab New Tweets
Now that you have all your old tweets stored, you’ll want to make sure any new tweets are automatically grabbed and stored as WordPress posts. For this, we’ll be using the Twitter Tools plugin by Alex King.
After installing and verifying your Twitter account details, make sure the following two options are set on the plugin’s settings page (Settings→Twitter Tools):
- Enable option to create a tweet when you post in your blog? NO
- Create a blog post from each of your tweets? Yes
I’m not sure what would happen if you set “Yes” to both, but I don’t intend on finding out for myself for fear of annoying the crap out of my followers. Douglas Bownman, the author of the original guide, described it as an “endless loop of repeating tweets and blog posts.”
All of the other options, like whether to exclude @replies, are either not necessary or up to your personal preferences.
Note: After installing Twitter Tools I noticed a few duplicate tweets (in conjunction with my backed-up tweets) that I went back and manually deleted.
Tweet Archive Theme
Douglas Bownman of stopdesign was also nice enough to release the tweet archive theme he used for free.
The theme works out of the box but it requires some *gasp* direct theme editing to personalize the hard-coded area (that I’ve highlighted in red) with your own account information. Just open up your
header.php and scroll to the bottom.
Make sure you have the following handy to copy and paste into the “user” div area in the header file:
- A 48×48 image URL of your Twitter avatar (or whatever you want really)
- Your name (I used “Theme Lab” for example)
- Your Twitter username (@themelab)
- Location and website URL (themelab.com)
Or you could just remove it completely, it’s up to you. There is also a nice display of archive links which don’t seem as dreaded on an archive-oriented site like this.
If you’re making your own custom theme make sure to display the post content and have the full date and time as the permalink to the post. I’m not sure comments are really necessary on a theme like this, but again, it’s your site now, so you can do whatever you want with it.
Update: I just noticed the search form had the /tweets/ URL hardcoded into the form action, which obviously won’t work if you’ve installed anywhere besides a /tweets/ subdirectory. To correct this, replace the following code in
<form method="get" id="searchform" action="/tweets/">
And replace with:
<form method="get" id="searchform" action="<?php bloginfo('url'); ?>/">
I really wish I set this up a long time ago. I’m a Twitter addict and have over 6000 tweets (follow me at @themelab) and unfortunately I wasn’t able to back all of them up, only about 15% of them.
Once again I’d like to thank Douglas Bowman of stopdesign for the guide on settings this up as well as the theme. It was actually a lot easier than I thought and it’s great that it can be powered by my favorite CMS, WordPress, with the help of some extra plugins.
About Leland Fiegel
Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.