Creating a Twitter clone with Zapier

One of the things that I struggle with personally is deciding exactly how “connected” I want to be in my day-to-day. Currently, I use social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, for two reasons:

  1. Posting weird Yu-Gi-Oh screen-caps for the podcast

  2. Keeping tabs on important family updates

As weird as I feel about freely giving Facebook any more of my data to sell, it’s also how I found out that my mom was getting remarried, so I feel a sort of obligation to keep it around. (This was a while ago now, and she at least called before the ceremony, so we’re all good.)

The thing is, I don’t want to be obligated to any one company when it comes to either of the above things. I would far and away prefer losing a bit of functionality, even paying a bit of actual money, for the comfort of knowing that what I say to my friends and family stays within that circle, and only gets sent elsewhere when I explicitly opt in. Even with GDPR and social platforms making renewed efforts to keep my data “safe”, I feel that there’s something to be said for knowing exactly where my information is kept. I want to be able to go and see the bytes, I guess.

This isn’t a new concept, and I’ve tried out projects like Mastodon, diaspora*, or even to see if it was possible to create something that I could convince my friends and family to use, while satisfying my need to not give Zuck any more free labour.

The quick answer: I haven’t, yet.

But, I’ve made some interesting progress.

I recently started working for the automation platform Zapier (and please know that everything I’m saying here is completely my own personal view, does not reflect the views of the company, etc., etc.), and in playing around with the product, I realised that it gives access to two pretty powerful tools:

  1. The ability to send/receive webhooks

  2. The ability to update an RSS feed

The latter of the two I had already seen used in a number of articles regarding podcast hosting, which may be something I circle back around to. But I wanted to know if I could use these two things to build something like what I was picturing: A way to post “content” within a small group, and know exactly where my data is.

It has a few limitations, which I’ll cover briefly here and then maybe more extensively later on, but you can see the result here:

A couple big things:

  1. There’s literally no security on it, so don’t trust anything written there.

  2. Due to the limits in Zapier (because there had to be some limits), it can only handle 100 posts per month, and displays only the 50 latest posts.

While this definitely disqualifies the solution from wide release, it could be a viable solution for small groups. Because the RSS feed and all of the processing is hosted entirely by Zapier, and can be run using a free (free-as-in-free, not free-as-in-beer) Zapier account, there’s nothing saying that the “client” file couldn’t be kept offline. All you really need is the HTML/JS powering the form and displaying the RSS feed, and an internet connection.

There are still some tweaks to be made here and there, but in the vein of “here’s a weird internet thing I’ve made”, I felt it warranted sharing. From here, there are a few other projects I’d like to explore, given the time:

  • Internet-powered games played on phones or laptops in the same room (a-la Jackbox)

  • Free podcast hosting (as mentioned above)

  • Chatroom-esque spaces that only exist for a short time

  • Determining what an ad-free, user-run social network (that actually works — sorry, Ello) might look like

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