Take one QR code, a script that fetches a random bit of web frippery on demand, and a willing patch of skin. Put them all together and you have The Random Tattoo. Enjoy!
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.
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!
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.
So to help anyone out there who may be stuck for ideas, here’s my list of divergent thought helpers:
- Stumbleupon – highly recommended: tell it your interests and hit ‘stumble’ to be sent to a random site
- Buzzfeed – hit the randomize button in the top right corner (occasionally NSFW) to see something usually quite cool
- Mystery Seeker – type something in the search box and receive a set of google results for a totally different subject
- The Wiki Game – start in one place on wikipedia, and try to end up in another, while seeing loads of content on the way
- We Heart It – inspiring and high-quality imagery, often captioned, and with decent search functionality
- We Feel Fine – an emotional search tool, potentially good for scanning & visualising need states
- Popurls – see the freshest stories from a range of great online sources, with customisation options
- Newsmap – a visualisation of the latest news, powered by google (quite old but potentially interesting)
- Thesaurus.net – high quality thesaurus dictionary: search synonyms, antonyms, rhymes, quotes and idioms
- Visual Thesaurus – see the associated meanings between concepts – worth paying for
- Bing Visual Search – search the web visually in an intuitive, exploratory way
- oSkope – discover images, videos and products related to a search query
- 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?