How To: Safely Use Twitter Notification Enhancement Services

closeThis post was published 11 years 9 months 1 day ago. A number of changes have been made to the site since then, so please contact me if anything is broken or seems wrong.

Latest update: 2010-11-20: Twitter tweaked the addresses again. Remove the twitter- part of the addresses in your filters if you’ve set them up.

Update (2010-11-11): Twitter changed their addressing scheme again. See below for instructions.

As you all have probably heard, Twitter is gaining popularity in leaps and bounds. All the new users mean more follower notifications arriving in my inbox, and Twitter’s default messages aren’t very useful. (The direct message notifications are pretty bare-bones, too, but I don’t get many of those so it wasn’t a priority.)

Update (05/06): Twitter prettified their emails, but I still think Topify’s are better. Unfortunately, Twitter also went back to using the same address ([email protected]) for all users’ notifications, putting the email-address–specific addresses in the reply-to header. So the filter setup in this post doesn’t work any more. I had to come up with a new, more complicated filter… Stupid Twitter…

Update (05/07): Twitter went back to the old From addresses, so the filters from this post should now work again.

The Beginning

The first enhanced-notification service I discovered was Twimailer, created by a British developer named Jon Wheatley (and apparently later sold—shortly after I signed up—to a Romanian named Toni).

Despite the admonitions in the article above (on ReadWriteWeb) about changing passwords and all kinds of security precautions, I’m not worried about my own account. There’s one simple reason for that: I never actually switched my email address in Twitter’s settings. Instead, I created a Gmail filter to auto-archive follow notifications from Twitter and forward them to Twimailer. That way, I:

  • had all my follow notifications even if the service went down (it did for several days) or glitched (sometimes I get messages with no information)
  • only forwarded the messages Twimailer needed to be useful, rather than everything
  • made sure to keep password resets (which I haven’t used for my main account in the last few months anyway) completely out of Twimailer’s hands

I was very comfortable with this system. I can only guess that Jon’s original intent was to simplify the setup process. After all, most people don’t bother with email filters, and wouldn’t necessarily know how to set one up. Changing settings on Twitter’s website is a lot easier.

A New Age

Thanks to a TechCrunch post about fighting Twitter spam I read tonight, I discovered Topify, an invitation-only (for now) service based in Israel that offers all of what Twimailer did—and more.

I found an invite on the Topify blog (sorry, no link; you gotta dig through their site too so it’s fair for everyone) and quickly signed up. The Twitter password field distressed me a little, but it’s obviously necessary for all the extra features (like follow-back, reply to direct message, and block), all of which can be done via email with Topify. (In the future, I hope Topify will implement support for Twitter’s OAuth authentication and delete users’ passwords from their system. Consider this a request, Arik. 🙂

Anyway, switching was pretty painless. All I had to do was change the address to which my Gmail filter forwards and add my direct-message notification From address to the filter. I’m currently waiting for something to happen on my Twitter account so I can try out the new service. (I considered running Twimailer and Topify side-by-side for a bit, but decided against it; redundant emails would increase my processing time, the opposite of the intended effect.)

Filter Details

For those who want to copy my setup (I’m telling you, it’s a lot more resilient than the default instructions from either service), here are the filter settings to enter.

Update (2010-11-11): Twitter changed their addressing scheme. The old addresses don’t work any more. Make sure to use the inserted instructions. 🙂 (Updated again 2010-11-20 when Twitter removed the twitter- part of the address.)

As of November 11 20, 2010, you’ll have to copy the From address of at least one Twitter notification email before you can set up the filter. The address should look like follow-<lots-of-letters-and-numbers> or dm-<lots-of-letters-and-numbers>

The random letters and numbers appear to stay the same whether it’s a follow or a DM, so you only need to copy one address, then paste it twice and change one instance of follow or dm to the other.

In the filter’s From box, enter:

  • Topify: follow-<lots-of-letters-and-numbers> OR dm-<lots-of-letters-and-numbers> twitter-follow-you=yourdomain.tld OR twitter-dm-you=yourdomain.tld
  • Twimailer: twitter-follow-you=yourdomain.tld I’m not supporting Twimailer any more (is it dead?) so no updates here.

Replace you=yourdomain.tld with your email address, using = in place of @.

That’s all you need to do for filter criteria. (If you have only one Twitter account coming into your inbox, it’s even easier; you can omit the -you=yourdomain.tld part(s) of the filter criteria. It doesn’t hurt to include them, though.)

For actions, I selected “Skip Inbox” and “Mark as read”, and told Gmail to forward these messages to my secret Twimailer/Topify address.

Click the Create filter button, scroll down your filter list, and you should see something like the following (image is linked to full-size version):

(There’s also an XML file available to import, for those with the Filter Import/Export feature enabled in Gmail Labs, but creating the filter from scratch is pretty easy. No reason to recreate the importable file. The new solution is so copy-and-paste–heavy that it wouldn’t be worth it. The file link might go dead in a month or two when my Google Page Creator site is moved to Google Sites, but I’ll know because things like the site logo will stop working. If that happens, I’ll definitely fix it. Well, since I moved to self-hosted WordPress, no links broke. 😀)

Note: As I was writing this, I discovered Chris Messina’s post about this, published almost two months ago. My little hack is nothing new, I guess; but I’ll publish anyway because his instructions are focused on Twimailer and Twimailer only.


Let me know if you find this little hack useful. I haven’t time to make a bunch of pretty screenshots (unlike Chris ;-), so if you have questions, post in the comments.

Incidentally, this is my 500th blog post. If that means anything.


I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.


  1. Arik Fraimovich

    Thank you for the post and the instructions !

    Re. OAuth – we already working on it. It was a bit unstable (and shutdown) lately, so we still think what will be the best way to add support for it at Topify.

  2. You’re quite welcome, Arik! 🙂

    Yes, Filttr has been testing OAuth for a while too, and there are a few bugs in Twitter’s OAuth API that aren’t present in the regular API. Unicode characters, for instance, can’t be posted in tweets (last I heard; might have been fixed since). I’m glad to hear you’re already working on it, and I look forward to switching my Topify account to use OAuth when it’s ready. I’d also be willing to test it, if you do a pre-release test (like Filttr did).

    Just out of curiosity, do you plan to include “advanced” instructions in the Topify sign-up process for users who don’t want to change their Twitter email?

  3. Arik Fraimovich

    OAuth – there already a fix/workaround for the Unicode issue, but still I feel it isn’t stable enough. Once we have something working, we will post a request for beta testers – stay tuned 🙂

    Advanced instructions – I guess we should add that. We also thought of auto generating the XML file of the filter for the users.

    Once we finish with deploying a control panel, we will get back to these features.

    Thanks for the feedback ! Keep it coming 🙂

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