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Twitterfall – an undergraduate spin off

Twitterfall is a Twitter client specialising in real-time searches of tweets, allowing users to easily follow trending or specific topics. It was the brainchild of two York Computer Science students, Tom Brearley and David Somers, who both studied the BEng in Computer Science, and will graduate in July 2010.

The Telegraph dubbed Twitterfall “a Google for the Twitterverse” and use it in their newsroom. It is also recommended by Stephen Fry – one of Twitter's most famous and popular users.

This what the co-founders say about Twitterfall:

David: "The original idea came about because people were using Twitter to follow Macworld [an Apple Macintosh conference] in January 2009. At the time, Twitter was unreliable, particularly when lots of people where constantly refreshing searches, and lots of journalists and delegates were tweeting from the conference. I thought it would be easier if I could do the checking from Twitter, and serve the results in a more efficient way, so a few hours before the keynote, I built a rudimentary webpage. I knew Tom could design, so I asked him to make it look pretty! A few hundred people used it to follow Macworld after we announced it on Twitter, and helpfully provided their feedback, including suggesting new features."

Tom: "In two weeks, we’d made a version that used popular trends, but that wasn’t really that useful, as it could get full of spam - so we progressed to being able to add your own searches and log in to Twitter through Twitterfall to tweet and respond to others. The design of the single fall is easy to keep track of, and we’ve refined this so you can easily see different trends through different colours."

More users followed after the Telegraph tweeted a picture of them using Twitterfall in the newsroom. When Tom and David responded, the Telegraph invited them down to see how they were using it, and gave them some suggestions about turning it in to a business. They haven’t looked back since.

Tom: "We currently get a few thousand people using the site a day, some returning visitors, some new ones. If something happens then that can increase: for example, Stephen Fry recently held a party on Twitter and told people to use Twitterfall as an easy way to enjoy the party. We’ve also developed an app for the iPhone, and when it’s been a popular day on the website, we see sales go up."

Twitterfall has served as a proof of concept, and an experiment in learning new things. It has an infrastructure that it doesn’t necessarily need – but that can be applied to other real-time problems on the web. David and Tom have developed other systems from it: the most recent being a commenting system on a website that follows similar principles to Twitterfall.

The partnership was formalised into Protane LLP, and whilst Tom has a job in a related industry, David will continue to work on the business.

Want to know more?

For further information, take a look at Twitterfall website.

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Twitterfall screenshot

Quote from  Tom Brearley, a BEng in Computer Science graduate and a co-founder of Twitterfall:

We have progressed the software so that you are able to add your own searches and log in to Twitter through Twitterfall to tweet and respond to others. The design of the single fall is easy to keep track of, and we’ve refined this so you can easily see different trends through different colours.