Interview with James Cunningham (@jamescun), Developer of #Twifficiency

18 AUG 2010

At around 10am on Tuesday the 17th of August 2010, Twitter appeared to be taken over by a website called Twifficiency, an app which identified your Twitter efficiency and then posted the result to your twitter feed. Thousands of tweets were going out every hour with the format “My Twifficiency score is 43%. What’s yours?” and the service became viral in a very short period of time. However, some tweeters were not happy that the service had not asked for their permission to tweet their score to their feed and began to tweet attack the 17 year old Scottish based web developer, James Cunningham (@jamescun).

James soon logged on to his account to what must have been thousands of messages, some good, but mostly bad. Instead of responding nastily to the tweets, James alerted everyone to the fact that it was simply a mistake on his part, and he had only made the service in an attempt to learn OAuth, which is an API for access delegation for Twitter.

Literally within hours, James has become something of a celebrity! #Twifficiency soon became a trending top not only in the UK, but the World. Even better than that though, the term Twifficiency became one of Google’s top 100 searched terms, which is an amazing feat for any web developer, never mind a 17 year old who is just out of school who is making apps simply to learn a specific programming language!

Articles were published in Business Zone and Time, and Clarke Duncan of Paid On Results even suggested he would offer the young developer a job based on his coding ability.

School for Startups has been lucky enough to interview the 17 year-old web developer and entrepreneur James Cunningham, from Dundee…

Q: Well Mr. James Cunningham, your new Twifficiency tool has gone to the top of Google Search trends in just a few hours. Can you tell us exactly how it calculates how active someone is on Twitter?

Basically it acts like any Mechanical Efficiency calculation, how much you put in versus how much you take out and it does this with your tweets (how much you read and tweet, and your twitter conversations) and your followings/followers. The functionality of the app wasn’t the purpose of the application to be completely honest, it was more about learning oAuth for me.

Q: Is this something you felt people need to measure? Is it an important measurement for businesses to look at? Or more just matter of general interest?

For businesses, I think it is an important measurement because its easy for someone to rack up X followers or follow X amount of people, but its all about how engaged with the platform they are rather than figures (although this just does output a figure). It is also important for general interest because people have a thirst for little tid-bits of knowledge that they can you, and thats what this does.

Q: Do you think Twitter fills an especially important niche from a business or personal perspective? I notice you didn’t make a tool for calculating how efficiently people use Facebook or Linkedin . . .

Well, the application in its current state doesn’t really fill much of a need more than that of “Hey, that was interesting”. Twitter (as with all social networks) are very important tools especially for business because what business has been lacking for so many years is a way to engage its consumers and get real feedback and thats what Social Networking provides. It wasn’t made for Facebook or LinkedIn because I wanted to learn oAuth (which Twitter uses), Facebook’s API documentation leaves A LOT to be desired, and I do not have a LinkedIn Profile.

Q: At 17, you’re a web developer. Some might see you as uncommonly young to be working so effectively in such a competitive industry. May I ask what you think led you to start a business so young and so well?

I was recently at the Young Rewired State 2010 event and met many talented developers who are about my age and clearly have the potential for great things, the issue it just breaking in and once that’s done its done. I have always wanted to start a business from a very young age and while Twifficiency isn’t really a business (yet) I think its that sort of thing which would help young developers into the technology world.

Q: Are you currently in school? And if so, may I ask which one?

I left High School this year, and I will be starting College at the end of August. I will be studying for a HND in Computer Networking and Internet Technology and Dundee College.

Q: One of School for Startups’ memes is the absolute necessity to teach entrepreneurship from an early age, just as people teach maths or language. Is that a position you would agree with?

Of course, I think entrepreneurship should be taught and encouraged from a young age because so many people have the potential to run their own business but I also think it takes a certain type of person who wants to start their own business, and they should be encouraged.

Q: I know it has only been a few hours, but do you have immediate plans to add features to Twifficiency?

Well, the first thing I am tackling is the auto-tweet thing, and I am currently sorting out this version and testing it properly before moving on to new functionality.

Q: You’re a UK entrepreneur . . . Do you have any thoughts about how the UK helps or hinders really entrepreneurial young people? Does the educational system foster the kind of creativity and innovation required to jump start a business young?

I think currently being in the UK hinders technology entrepreneurs, although this is really a problem for all non-Silicon-Valley based technology entrepreneurs where investment and support is focused. Whereas for other startups I think we are in a very good position because we have good ties to the rest of Europe and the United States and great financial links with China which pretty much has all your super-power bases covered.


A lot about this story ties in with what we will be teaching at our MADE In 48 Hours event next month. James’ story shows that with some out of the box thinking and a strong knowledge of social media, you can make a website go viral in a very small period of time.

Doug Richard, the School for Startups founder, and former BBC2 Dragons’ Den panelist, alongside Joost De Valk and Andrew Davis, will be teaching a 2 day bootcamp in Sheffield next month, looking to teach you everything there is to know in order for your business to succeed online. In this day and age, any business must have visibility on the internet to succeed, and this seminar will show you exactly how to become visible using a myriad number of techniques taught by three of the world’s leading internet experts.

Joost De Valk is a world renowned SEO and WordPress expert and will be flying in from the Netherlands, just to pass on his wealth of knowledge to 300 lucky business owners attending this event. Andrew Davis, former head of social media marketing at MySpace, will be coming along to teach you everything you need to know about social media and how you can utilise it to attract thousands of visitors to your website, at zero cost to your company.

This seminar will help you setup a website, learn search engine optimisation so your business can feature high up in the google results and teach you sound social media marketing techniques to get your business known to thousands of web users in your target market. All in 48 hours.

MADE In 48 Hours is part of MADE: The Entrepreneur Festival and for a limited time only, if you register for the “Entrepreneurs Passport” you will also receive access to two other exceptional event: Rachel Bridge’s “How To Make A Million Before Lunch” and TEDx Sheffield. More information on all of the festival’s events can be found at

Use the discount code TWIFFICIENCY when buying your MADE In 48 Hours ticket to receive a 10% discount.

We would like to thank James for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish him the best of luck in the future, and we are excited to see the next version of Twifficiency!

  1. Good luck to James. An interesting phenomenon is the speed at which twitter users, with total abandon jump on these bandwagons, apparently seeking validation that they or their activity has some meaning and can be compared in a numerical way to that of other people. If tweeters are really so insecure about their popularity or efficiency or ‘klout’ they’re probably more in need of the services of a psychiatrist.

  2. If this had indeed been an overnight thing I’d believe his lies in this interview. It wasn’t. Twifficiency has been around for weeks, he’s taken up until now to work out how to get people using it. It wasn’t a simple coding error that caused everybody to tweet out the messages, it was deliberate; otherwise he’d have fixed it weeks ago when people first started complaining.

    His next job will be for a spam or phishing operation, and far from being admired for his work he should be reviled. He has after all taken control over thousands of Twitter accounts which he can now use for spamming his messages across the internet.

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