One tweet somehow manages to send me off to the web experimentation rabbit hole for building a new gizmo. But the bigger lesson is that knowing how to read, edit, and modify URL parameters can give you the power over the algorithmic lords.

From One Tweet…

I managed to just click this out of curiosity

What Anil gave is is a link that performs an advanced twitter search that returns all the tweets from accounts you currently follow, if they had any before January 12, 2008.

It can be an eye opening peek at what people thought was important back then (besides lunch), when tweets were shorter (remember 140 max, hashtags did not exist, and URLs did not even link). In my own old tweets (in the mix) I saw references to early Flickr raving (has not changed) and many references to Second Life.

It’s all done via a long URL. To many people this is goop, but if you Read URLs you know it’s a call to a server search query and it is passing in the parameters of typically might come from clicking options on a form

https://twitter.com/search?q=filter%3Afollows%20until%3A2008-01-12%20-filter%3Areplies&src=typed_query

But right there I saw potential

I had this idea digging away, what if one could make a web site that assembled a URL like that dynamically- the default could be the current day in 2008, but with a set of menu selectors, it could let you perform the same task on any desired date, not just the one Anil chose.

Retro TV Time

My mind association went to the old Irwin Allen 1960s sci fi show, The Time Tunnel. I most remember the opening sequence, and that 1960s set of the tunnel room and the people working at machines, computers. I don’t recall the plot much, except people traveled in time.

Ironically, as I read the Wikipedia article, the secret government project that built this was called “Project Tic-Toc” — how is that for some weird retro-futurism? There is interplay between scientists, army generals, and politicians who demand to know why so much money is being spent.

Two of the scientists, Tony and Doug, enter the machine, travel in time, but cannot get back. The episodes include the vain efforts to return them as they travel back (mostly) and sometimes forward in time, and as typical run into situations where the time travelers acts in the pass can affect the future (hello butterfly) and even interact with their own history.

The show was canceled before the scientists could ever be saved, so i guess Tony and Doug are still out there.

The Twitter Time Tunnel

I just loved the trope of the machine, and jumping into it and being swirled back into the past. Thus my machine was made:

When it loads, it is set to launch you back through the twitter machine to the current month and day, but in the year 2008. Like Anil’s example, it will give you what your current twitter followers were tweeting (if they wore) for that date (and earlier as you scroll back)

But you can also select any Month, day, and year (back to 2007) to search a different time. One change I made was to not use the “top” tweets option, which does some algorithmic sorting, just to the pure chronological listing.

Maybe the most ironic thing was one of my early tests, when the tunnel took me back to a tweet By Sylvia Martinez mentioning a “Time Machine” (likely the Apple back up stuff, but still, ironic, right?)

The Making Thereof

I likely spent way too much time figuring out those three menus. I found some useful scripts for generating dynamically such menus from HTML Code Generator. I could see likely if I used them I might be able to do this without jQuery, but since I grabbed a regularly used template that makes use of Backstretch.js to fill the background with an image, that I would rely on jQuery.

The tricky part is getting the right number of days. So I had to make scripts that if the month was changed, it would need to check for the months of differing day numbers (so that April’s menu stopped ay 30 days and January 31). And of course February has to stop at 28 (unless it’s a leap year). So the day menu has to change dynamically if the month or year change.

But then the button script just has to get the date format from the menus that the twitter search URL calls for.

You can find it all at https://github.com/cogdog/twittertimetunnel and as usual is not elegant of very compact Javascript.

The Thing About URLs

I can always reflect on some of the talks I remember hearing from Jon Udell when he was invited to speak to Gardner Campbell’s students, I think it was at Virginia Tech. Jon was making a case for something like URL literacy- that if you could understand what those variables mean in things like google searches and amazon searches and… well any searches, you could actually bend them to make them do what you want, just by editing the URL in the browser.

It’s the same thing at work for what Anil shared- his URL is based on the results you get from an advanced twitter search. He explains it well

When you have awareness / interest / willingness to tinker with URLs it means you are not limited to what the platform and it’s algorithms just hand you. I feel like I am rewriting or taking control of sites when I can do things like manipulate URLs to do things like force Google Images to give me only Creative Commons licensed results.

So when someone replies my first share of this with what sounds like “hey it won’t work for me because of the way I manage my follows”

My brain goes– okay, rewire the URL, you are not helpless if you are willing to tinker in the URL field. You cant break anything!

This is it! You can subvert the algorithms, you can make web services give you what you want, not always what it wants to serve. And you can get more out of the experience.

Glitched It

And because this all started with Anil Dash’s tweet, it’s only fitting that I slide my project from where I lobbed it first (github) into the Glitch platform he is behind. The code is there, very easily remixable but you can spin the tunnel too at https://twitter-time-tunnel.glitch.me

What can you find in the machine? Will you see Tony and Doug chasing down historical figures? Or just a glimpse into what people were sharing, posting in the deep beginnings of Twitter Time.


Featured Image: My Photoshop modification of thumbnail of YouTube video The Time Tunnel Ep 19 The Ghost of Nero, the text with Hobo font, and Twitter logo found on Pixabay I cast it out with a CC BY license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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