Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!

30 Day Song Challenge – Week Four

Day 16: a song that you used to love but now hate

Jazzanova – I Can See

Hate is a strong word, but this is definitely far less cool than it sounded on all those Gilles Peterson podcasts.

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Day 17: a song that you hear often on the radio

Adele – Someone Like You

Sure, this gets a lot of airtime, but it is bloody good, isn’t it?!

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Day 18: a song that you wish you heard on the radio

Little Dragon – My Step

Possibly the best chorus of 2010. I’m addicted to this song.

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Day 19: a song from your favorite album

Air – La Femme D’Argent

Moon Safari is such an incredible and timeless album.

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Day 20: a song that you listen to when you’re angry

Landau Orchestra – Conceptions (4Hero Cover)

The right amount of thump to bring any angry person back to normality.

13 Tools to Promote Divergent Thinking

New ideas can come from anywhere, but are often hardest to find when you’re actually looking for them. However, I believe it’s possible to jumpstart your brain, even under pressure, by applying yourself to a bit of divergent thinking:

Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn. After the process of divergent thinking has been completed, ideas and information are organized and structured using convergent thinking.

Wikipedia

So to help anyone out there who may be stuck for ideas, here’s my list of divergent thought helpers:

  1. Stumbleupon – highly recommended: tell it your interests and hit ‘stumble’ to be sent to a random site
  2. Buzzfeed – hit the randomize button in the top right corner (occasionally NSFW) to see something usually quite cool
  3. Mystery Seeker – type something in the search box and receive a set of google results for a totally different subject
  4. The Wiki Game – start in one place on wikipedia, and try to end up in another, while seeing loads of content on the way
  5. We Heart It – inspiring and high-quality imagery, often captioned, and with decent search functionality
  6. We Feel Fine – an emotional search tool, potentially good for scanning & visualising need states
  7. Popurls – see the freshest stories from a range of great online sources, with customisation options
  8. Newsmap – a visualisation of the latest news, powered by google (quite old but potentially interesting)
  9. Thesaurus.net – high quality thesaurus dictionary: search synonyms, antonyms, rhymes, quotes and idioms
  10. Visual Thesaurus – see the associated meanings between concepts – worth paying for
  11. Bing Visual Search – search the web visually in an intuitive, exploratory way
  12. oSkope – discover images, videos and products related to a search query
  13. TouchGraph SEO – see the links between topics and websites

Finally, and it may take more time for ideas to emerge this way, but TED really is an amazing resource for this kind of thing. I recently attended TEDxObserver, after which my head was swimming with ideas.

Can you suggest any of your own?

30 Day Song Challenge – Week One

A few of my mates are doing this viral challenge thing on Facebook right now, and because it’s a pretty cool idea, I’d like to join in. However, not wishing to clog up any newsfeeds, I’ve decided to post my music selections up on the blog. Posts like this will pop up once a week until 30 days are up.

Expand the box below to see the full list of musical challenges covered.

[toggle title_open=”Hide all 30 Day Song Challenges” title_closed=”Show all 30 Day Song Challenges” hide=”yes” border=”yes” style=”default”]

Day 1: your favorite song
Day 2: your least favorite song
Day 3: a song that makes you happy
Day 4: a song that makes you sad
Day 5: a song that reminds you of someone
Day 6: a song that reminds you of somewhere
Day 7: a song that reminds you of a certain event
Day 8: a song that you know all the words to
Day 9: a song that you can dance to
Day 10: a song that makes you fall asleep
Day 11: a song from your favorite band
Day 12: a song from a band you hate
Day 13: a song that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14: a song that no one would expect you to love
Day 15: a song that describes you
Day 16: a song that you used to love but now hate
Day 17: a song that you hear often on the radio
Day 18: a song that you wish you heard on the radio
Day 19: a song from your favorite album
Day 20: a song that you listen to when you’re angry
Day 21: a song that you listen to when you’re happy
Day 22: a song that you listen to when you’re sad
Day 23: a song that you want to play at your wedding
Day 24: a song that you want to play at your funeral
Day 25: a song that makes you laugh
Day 26: a song that you can play on an instrument
Day 27: a song that you wish you could play
Day 28: a song that makes you feel guilty
Day 29: a song from your childhood
Day 30: your favorite song at this time last year
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Day 1: your favorite song

Nightmares On Wax – Les Nuits

This was my wake-up alarm music for years, now it’s firmly lodged in my brain.

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Day 2: your least favorite song

The Black Eyed Peas – Just Can’t Get Enough

I respect BEP for their innovative use of digital in crafting an image, but their music is becoming too ‘lowest common denominator’.

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Day 3: a song that makes you happy

Only Child – Space Disco

Excuse the shit video, but check the groove. It’ll put a smile on your face.

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Day 4: a song that makes you sad

Tosca – My First

It doesn’t actually make me feel sad, but all of Tosca’s music is quite sombre (and excellent).

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Day 5: a song that reminds you of someone

Chase & Status – Blind Faith

This song reminds me of the very lovely Sarah. On an unrelated note, very awesome video.

There you have it. Tune in next week for more of the good stuff, and perhaps join me by posting a link to your own responses in the comments below. Would also love to hear your thoughts on these tunes!

Anyone for Tonsil Tennis?

This is pretty cool I guess. The idea is that your partner “helps you” to play a video game by letting you snog them in different ways (while you’re looking at a computer screen and therefore not really paying attention).

It’s a bit gross, but it’s still a novel idea, so have a look:

What’s the mechanic here?

The Kiss Controller interface has two components: a customized headset that functions as a sensor receiver and a magnet that provides sensor input. The user affixes a magnet to his/ her tongue with Fixodent. Magnetic field sensors are attached to the end of the headset and positioned in front of the mouth. As the user moves her tongue, this creates varying magnetic fields that are used to control games.

We demonstrate the Kiss Controller bowling game. One person has a magnet on his/her tongue and the other person wears the headset. While they kiss, the person who has the magnet on his/her tongue, controls the direction and speed of the bowling ball for 20 seconds. The goals of this game are to guide the ball so that it maintains an average position in the center of the alley and to increase the speed of the ball by moving the tongue faster while kissing.

And what’s the point?

I literally do not know. If I were the developers I’d have focused on highlighting their innovative technique to use the tongue as an input device: it’s the most dexterous muscle in the body and it’s use is often one of the few remaining facilities among paralytics.

Can’t this be a remote control for wheelchairs or similar, rather than a Wii Sports ripoff? Come on guys…

More details here: Kiss Controller.