Chaintweeting over the GFW to Twitter

29 Aug 2009

We live in a world of fascinating, interactive web services, but unfortunately, those of us in China are cut off from some of the leading websites. Most conspicuous among these are YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. None of these websites are currently accessible in China, cut off by the Great Firewall (GFW) of China. Twitter and Facebook, most notably, have APIs, which enable other software, web services, and mobile phone apps to connect to and interact with them. But since all of these uses of the API make direct calls to Twitter or Facebook’s servers, none of these work in China either.

Working with Reign Design recently on OpenLanguage, I happened to browse Reign Design’s blog and came across this entry: Posting to Twitter via SMS in China. This interested me because I used to enjoy the convenience of posting to Twitter via SMS, and it’s a way to circumvent the GFW. I stopped because Twitter quit offering local numbers, and international SMSes are a bit expensive just for a tweet.

Anyway, I read the article, and the PHP script looked simple enough, so I headed over to Fanfou, where I already had a seldom-used account. I was surprised to discover, though, that Fanfou is gone. Nothing but a smoking crater where there used to be a lively community. Considering some recent events in China and the immediate, individual-empowering nature of microblogging, it’s not hard to imagine what happened.

With that option closed to me, I decided to check out the other big Chinese microblogging service I was familiar with, Zuosa (做啥). I really liked Zuosa, where I found a lot of advanced features that even Twitter has held back on. Then I went into settings, where I saw the familiar Twitter “t” next to the 同步到微博客 (“Sync to microblogs”) section.

When I clicked on that section, and then on the Twitter “t,” I got this message:

Zuosa.com Microblog Sync

The message says:

> 抱歉,该服务不可用;你可以通过 zuosa->buboo.tw->twitter 实现同步!

Translation:

> We’re sorry, this service is not available. You can go through zuosa -> buboo.tw -> twitter to accomplish the sync!

So I set up an account on Buboo.tw (ah, traditional characters!), easily synced that with Twitter, then synced my Zuosa account with Buboo. And hey… it works (1, 2, 3)! A tweet on Zuosa appears on Twitter in seconds. And since I synced my Twitter account to Facebook long ago, Facebook is actually at the end of the tweetchain: Zuosa -> Buboo.tw -> Twitter -> Facebook.

I haven’t tested SMS tweeting yet. One of the disadvantages of this method is that you can’t not post “downstream.” So for now, I can’t post only to Zuosa without posting to the other three, or post to Buboo without posting to Twitter and Facebook, unless I turn off the sync.

Anyway, I thought this was pretty cool… all made possible through international open APIs.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. what a wonderful world. we are somehow connected no matter what. actually, the chain is like sms>zuosa>buboo.tw>twitter>facebook. happy tweeting.

  2. Any way to sync Kaixin and Renren (formerly Xiaonei)? I was thinking of joining one, but after surveying some friends I found people on both sites, leaving me in a quandry as to which one to join.

  3. I use identi.ca as an alternative to twitter: it isn’t blocked and it’s open source. Then I have ping.fm broadcast my dents to twitter. Not sure if you would be able to SMS to identi.ca via Zuosa though. HTH

  4. And I’m using a secret install of Dabr on my Dreamhost account to read and post to twitter from Opera Mini on my non-smart phone. Amazing how many ways there are to connect to Twitter thanks to its open API. Now I’m trying to get my Sina microblog posts onto Twitter.

  5. […] Unfortunately this workaround doesn’t fly anymore. But check out John Pasden’s post on Sinosplice for an even better […]

  6. Twitter has been available via Tweetdeck all along. The “blockage” has made no difference to my use of Twitter.

    http://twitter.com/liuzhou

  7. John, would something like this help, by posting via email … ?
    http://twitterreply.com/

  8. I was also looking for a way to SMS tweet from my cell phone out here. About two months ago, I came across the Fanfou to Twitterfeed to Twitter solution. I, too, was surprised when, last Thursday, my 2 Fanfou tweets from my cell phone… did not show up anywhere. Fanfou was gone!

    With that option gone, I will be sure to check out this zuosa to buboo.tw solution. Thanks for the tip!

  9. Ok, that’s a nice hack. However, how do you fetch replies to your tweets? Actually I don’t see the point of this crippled version of the internets and therefore I’m using various vpn services. Cheap options in this section would include Alonweb (they have a free option) or iPredator (5€/month). Although both are not top of the line choices they allow for unblocked use of youtube, facebook, twitter etc…

  10. That’s ridiculously complex for a layman and ridiculously non-complex for someone ‘web enabled’. I would imagine most revolutionaries are ‘web enabled’ or on a VPN. What was the point of a web-block?

  11. John Wieja Says: September 1, 2009 at 8:00 am

    to Laotang- thanks for the alonweb tip. I just set it up. Really easy.

  12. @John: You are welcome.

    I found ipredator to be faster than alonweb. If you have a Mac and intend to use Openvpn (like Alonweb) I suggest having a look at “Viscosity”, a really nice piece of client software.

    Oh, btw, those only missing twitter in China should check out itweet, which is a (not yet blocked) online twitter client. Really nicely done and used by many Chinese friends.

  13. […] microblog through an unblocked third party and then to Twitter. John Pasden at Sinosplice has details. Even with open APIs, it takes motivated programmers to harness the system for everyday users, and […]

  14. Hi John,

    I know that this is an old post but since I know you use an android phone you can use fring to post twits since your twitt is first send to the fring servers and then to the twitter server

    Cheers!

  15. But Fernando, as of October this year, Fring servers are also blocked in China. Though some ipod touch / iphone copies of Fring can still log on. Fring is blocked for Symbian phones

  16. @Kanning: Yes I have noticed that at least the website is blocked, I’m not sure about Symbian but I have been using fring for android during the past month and it works fine for me, I downloaded it through the android market

    cheers!

  17. forget fring, there is nimmbuzz too

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