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!

Make Something Cool Every Day

Members of the Flickr group Make Something Cool Every Day are making cool things every day, in a social experiment that looks like a lot of fun.

The group’s rules are simple:

ONE upload per day.
Each piece must not have taken longer than a day to make.

So with these in mind, here is a slideshow of their submissions, best viewed fullscreen (but it can take a while to load):

So far the group has attracted 2,972 members, who’ve contributed 33,950 unique creations. That’s 11.4 submissions in total, so it’s evident people aren’t being religious about uploading every day, but what the hell.

What I find really interesting about the group is that there is very little conversation – a lowly 97 comments in total – in the main group discussion forum. All of the chatter is around individual works of art (especially the best stuff) . This tells me that viewers and contributors are far more interested in the content than in the delivery framework. Rightly so, I think.

The lesson to learn here is that despite Flickr enjoying a highly creative user base, it is very hard to engage those users with a campaign idea (and I’m not just talking advertising). Flickr just wasn’t designed for community engagement, as I’ve learned on past advertising campaigns that have used it as a platform.

But that’s OK, because people upload great art to the site every day, and the quality of comments that they do attract far outweigh Facebook’s throwaway commentary and (largely) poor photography, any day of the week.

Web Discoveries for July 17th

These are my del.icio.us links for July 17th

Microsoft’s Vision for the Future

Microsoft have released a new video suggesting they seek to reposition themselves over the next decade. I think they are on to something:

Their vision for the future is evidently very ambitious, but I believe that if anyone can pull this off, it’s them.

Microsoft’s approach has always been to create user experiences that are improved through exclusive use of Microsoft products. Sure, it’s got them in a  lot of trouble in the past, but it’s their corporate power and knowledge of how technologies (especially theirs) can work together that will best service the user through Ubiquitous Computing and Augmented Reality.

What’s especially interesting to me is that they really seem to have thought past their next release, Surface. It’s great to see something of their overall strategy. Something Apple, Google & Yahoo! are far less forthcoming with.

We are soon to have a Surface installed in the lobby at work. Really looking forward to it, but I’m concerned it’ll be too prescriptive in what it can be  used for. If Surface and any of the featured technologies in the above video suffer the marketing / usability failures of Vista it’ll be years more until these tools become a reality, at the hands of their competitors.

Will feedback on Surface once I’ve had a hands-on.