What Does “Twitter Rate Limited” Mean?

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“Sorry, you are rate limited. Please wait a few moments then try again.”

It’s probably one of the most frustrating Twitter errors you can ever receive, not only because it sounds confusing, but also because it’s an error you can’t really control, like Twitter servers going down or your Wi-Fi just straight-up conking out.

But what does it mean when Twitter says “Rate Limited”?

Twitter’s “Rate Limited” Error Explained

The ‘rate limited’ error applies when Twitter thinks you’re accessing their services too much. The error is there to avoid abuse by spammers and third-party apps like TweetDeck. Technically, it’s designed to control Twitter’s API so that it avoids server overload from too many requests.

In general, Twitter sets a limit to how many times you can access its services in any given time, which is why you’ll notice a specific error if you try to tweet too many times in a span of a few minutes. Twitter’s “rate limited” error, however, is specifically used when the system detects that you’re using a third-party app to access Twitter’s API. Note, however, that the Twitter system detects activity from accounts, not necessarily applications, i.e. if Twitter sets a limit of 100 API calls in an hour (that is, 100 attempts to access the Twitter API), then calls made from a single account are taken into, well, account, and not calls made from different applications.

Take note, also, that this error only applies to third-party apps; this error doesn’t appear on the twitter.com website since it doesn’t use an API, so this error shouldn’t appear if you’re using the desktop version.

What’s an API Call?

We keep using the term API, but what does it actually mean?

API means Application Programming Interface, and it’s a software that acts like a middleman between two apps. Think of it as a translator: an API gets info from one app, translates it, and gives it to the other app in a language it understands.

Twitter’s API allows the Twitter server to talk to different apps, whether it’s the mobile app or third-party apps like TweetDeck (one of the most commonly used third-party apps in the world). Now, an API call is basically any attempt (known as an operation) by an app to talk to Twitter. This can be in the form of tweeting, replying, retweeting, liking, even refreshing your Twitter feed.

This isn’t much of a problem if you’re just an individual user updating your timeline with your thoughts about the Lost finale, but if you’re a brand with a social media campaign and you’re using an app like TweetDeck, then it becomes problematic.

If you’re unfamiliar with TweetDeck, it’s basically a third-party app that automates a lot of Twitter functions for you. It’s usually used by people running social media campaigns, usually brands or influencers, and can be used to automatically update a bunch of functions on your Twitter account: automated responses to mentions, scheduled Tweets, auto replies, among other things. Given that, it’s easy to see how TweetDeck can go over Twitter’s 100 API calls limit, especially if you have your TweetDeck set to update every few minutes or so (or if you’re getting a ton of responses on your tweet and you have an automated response set to post).

Do note, however, that there are some operations that don’t count to your API Call limit, namely:

  • Favoriting a specific tweet
  • Responding to a Direct Message
  • Following a user
  • Unfollowing a user
  • Updates to search and/or groups

To name a few. These operations don’t count to your API limit because the data that’s needed for these operations don’t come from the Twitter API, but from the Twitter main server.

Once you use up all your 100 API Calls per hour, you’ll start to see Twitter’s “rate limit exceeded” error message. When this happens, Twitter, and TweetDeck, will not be able to send any types of data to Twitter’s API, and all the functions in your third-party app will pretty much freeze. Once the hour ends, your rate limit is reset and you can start using your TweetDeck again. Luckily, TweetDeck has a neat function where it displays your current rate limit status at the top right corner of the screen, just so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

Avoiding Twitter’s “Rate Limit Exceeded” Error

Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid the dreaded ‘rate limit exceeded’ message. However, while there are some options, there aren’t very many of them: the Twitter API limit is something enforced by Twitter, and all third-party apps like TweetDeck just have to comply. Given that, you could try the following options to try and skirt around the API limit without actually crossing it:

  • Whenever possible, use just one Twitter app at a time. It doesn’t matter if you’re not using other third-party Twitter apps, make sure they’re closed completely.
  • Not all operations cost the same: using the refresh button costs you 3 API calls per refresh, so try to save that as much as possible.
  • Lower the total percentage of your Twitter API to around 60%. This will give you much less frequent updates BUT you’ll be using much less API in the long run.
  • if you do get the rate limit exceeded message then make a note of your reset time shown in the top right corner of TweetDeck, TweetDeck will not get any updates until this time (so it might be a good opportunity to get a coffee) – you CAN continue to post messages, you just won’t see any responses
  • If you do see Twitter’s ‘rate limit exceeded’ message, mark down the reset time shown on TweetDeck. You won’t be able to post anything for 1 full hour, so go out and do other things and wait until it refreshes. You can post messages, but take note that you won’t be able to see any responses to it, which can be a problem if you’re trying to stay up to date with customer concerns or if people are tweeting you about a specific problem/issue that they need solving ASAP.
  • Alternatively, you could try to reset your Twitter password on the Twitter website. This doesn’t always work 100%, but it’s had limited success with other people.

Take note as well that Twitter’s ‘rate-limit’ error can also happen to individuals if you’re logged into a network that has hundreds of other people in it. This happened to me at a conference in Idaho, and I was live-tweeting the responses from one of the speakers, much like the other 35 members of the press in the room. Needless to say, the API limit was exceeded fairly quickly.

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