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How to: Post to Twitter via SMS in China

This isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally post here at ChinaGeeks, but I figured this was useful enough to be worth sharing with everyone.

What we’re doing: Setting it up so that when you send text messages to a specific number in China, those messages are automatically posted to your Twitter account (note: this will only work from the specific mobile phone you set it up with).

Why do this:

  • Because it’s cool to be able to update your Twitter without needing to get around the GFW or having wifi or 3G access.
  • Because it’s good to be able to easily inform people of your whereabouts in case of emergency. If you’re in a rural area and get into some kind of trouble, you likely won’t have any net access, but you may still have mobile service, and this will allow you to inform all your followers of your situation.

So, how can you update your Twitter account quickly via SMS (text messages) from China? At present, Twitter doesn’t support SMS updating in China, although I’ve heard that some people did set this up years ago and appear to be “grandfathered in”, so some people may have this capability. But if you haven’t already set it up, you can’t now.

There are a number of other ways floating around the net. The upside to this one is that it is easy and doesn’t require any tech saavy, or really even much knowledge of Chinese. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step One: Register for a Fanfou Account

You’ve probably heard of Weibo, but you may not remember Fanfou, the original Chinese microblogging service. It got axed in the wake of the Lhasa riots ((Or maybe the Urumqi riots, I don’t recall which it was…)), and by the time it was allowed back into the market again, Sina had a big head start.

Anyway, click here to visit Fanfou and then click the register button, as illustrated below:

register

Once you’ve clicked that, you’ll be taken to the registration page. Fill in the info as indicated:

register2

When you’re done, click that big green arrow button on the bottom. The next screen invites you to search for your friends on Fanfou. Probably, you don’t care about this, so click the skip button down on the bottom:

register3

Unless you want to follow people on Fanfou, click skip again on the next screen as well:

register4

Congrats! You’re now a registered Fanfou user!

Step 2: Connect Your Fanfou Account to Your Twitter Account

First, be sure you’re properly logged into Twitter with the account you want to connect. Then click the settings button (as illustrated below) to head into your control panel, which is where we’ll be doing the rest of the work.

settings1

Then you’ll need to click on the “sync” section to connect other accounts to your Fanfou account:

settings2

From there, you’ll want to click on the Twitter section, as illustrated below:

settings3

This will take you to Twitter, where you’ll want to authorize the app connection. You should then be forwarded back to Fanfou, where you’ll want to re-enter the control panel (if you aren’t taken directly there) for your next step.

If you have successfully synced Fanfou to your Twitter account, your “Sync” screen will now look like what you see below. Do not click the button next to the Twitter logo again; if you do, it will cancel the Twitter connection and you’ll have to restart this step.

diditright

Step 3: Connect your mobile phone to Fanfou

In the control panel, click on the “mobile phone” button to begin setting up your mobile connection. Be sure you have your phone handy, as you’ll need it in a second.

cell1

Then, fill in your phone number and click save, as illustrated below:

cell2

Then follow the directions below; send the authentication code (four english letters) to the number provided (1069 0029 3152) from the phone number you entered previously.

cell3

If you’ve done this right, you’ll get a text message from that number. The message basically says that you’ve set things up correctly and in the future, anything you text to that number will be automatically posted to your Fanfou account. Since you’ve already connected your Fanfou account to your Twitter account, it will automatically update your Twitter account as well.

Save the number you got the text from in your contacts. In the future, as long as you’ve got cell service you can update your Fanfou/Twitter by texting messages less than 160 characters to that number.

Step 4: Secure your Fanfou Account (optional)

So, at this point you’re all set, but if you want to be extra careful, you can take some steps to lock down your Fanfou account so as not to attract unwanted attention. This is probably unnecessary, but personally I opted to take this step anyway because I didn’t want to attract attention to my Fanfou account, which I’ll never actually be checking. If you want to do the same, click this button from the control panel to tweak your privacy settings:

privacy1

Then, tweak your privacy settings as you see fit:

privacy2

Click that blue button at the bottom to save whatever settings you’ve chosen.

You’re done!

Fire some test messages to be sure, but your accounts should now be connected and any texts you send to the Fanfou number should appear on your Twitter quite quickly (in my tests, most appeared within a minute or two).

Based on my tests, hashtags seem to work OK, so it seems you can use those if you’d like.

A few downsides:

  • Messages with @ don’t work: At least based on my tests, it doesn’t seem to support any messages directed at other users, so if you put @username into your text, that won’t go through. Perhaps there’s a workaround for this, or it’s just delayed, but I haven’t been able to get a text with @ in it to go through as yet.
  • You can’t see your stream or replies. Obviously, this is a very one way system. It will help you post to Twitter but you won’t be able to see any replies or anyone else’s Tweets without a Twitter app and a VPN, or some other kind of setup. Still, it’s better than nothing.
  • No character counter. This is also obvious, but with texts you don’t have any obvious indicator of how many characters you’ve entered. The Twitter limit is 140. So if you’re not sure play it safe and keep messages short.

So, that’s basically it! This is intended to be a step-by-step guide, but I’ve had quite a bit more scotch this evening than I usually partake in when blogging, so it’s possible I’ve skipped a step in here somewhere. If so, please let me know. If not, happy tweeting!

Two notes

1. Obviously, I am not the first person to figure this out, nor is this a new method. However, I haven’t seen it discussed in many places and it would be a bit tough to navigate without basic Chinese reading skills, so I thought I’d throw this guide together anyway. If you already knew about this method, good for you!

2. I am indebted to @melissakchan for both illustrating why this sort of functionality is useful (follow her for a few weeks, you’ll see what I mean) and for inspiring me to sit down and figure this out. This isn’t the way that she tweets her updates, but if we hadn’t been discussing it the other night I would never have thought to sit down and search for alternative methods, so all props to her for the inspiration!

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0 thoughts on “How to: Post to Twitter via SMS in China”

  1. Ultra-uber-cool. Works perfectly. Thanks for this (side note: I didn’t get any confirmation text after setting up the phone sync).

    Like

  2. The other way around (receiving tweets without needing to circumvent the GFW) would be more interesting. I really need @Beijingair..but so far I had no luck in anything even remotely usable.

    Like

  3. Thank you for giving the 50Cent Gang another chance to close Fanfou or at least it’s sharing option with Twitter…

    Some things should not be published online. You’re just helping the Government improve its censorship.

    Like

  4. Petri… you argue against censorship while urging people not to write about harmless things like this?

    Shutting up rarely combats censorship effectively, that’s a pre-emptive surrender.

    Besides, they’d figure it out sooner or later – better to spread it around and enjoy it while we can.

    Like

  5. Great post.

    Small update: to register mobile phone it is now in the tab: “绑定” (replaced both the one for Mobile and GTalk)

    Otherwise, working like a charm

    Like

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