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.

Crowd Financing: The Saviour Of Short Film?

Here’s an exploration of how young filmmakers are turning to the web to translate their concepts into capital, by means of a case study.

Lucy Tcherniak, a very talented friend of mine, has spent the last 18 months working on ‘Dominic’, her Psycho-Noir short film set in an English gentlemen’s club in the 1950s. How cool does that sound?!

The project is nearing completion, and word on the street is it’s going to be a corker. Judging by early imagery, I’m sure it’ll be a cult hit on the online video and awards scene.

A still from the short film 'Dominic' - release date TBC
A still from the short film 'Dominic' - release date TBC

However, the film hit a snag that prevents it reaching completion, thanks to a cock-up pertaining to securing music rights. Here’s a note from the film’s director on the piece of music in question:

The film has an entirely original score apart from a vital track which is played on the radio in the very first scene – Vera Lynn’s ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’. This was in the script from the beginning and sets the tone for the film. The £600 fee for the publishing rights for the track were originally in Partizan’s budget. Though unfortunately, because Partizan had to go way over budget during the shoot they can’t stump up any more cash for it now.

So, how does this director plan to solve the issue, release the movie, and see her name in lights? She’s turned the funding issue over to us: the crowd. Lucy has created a profile and project page on IndieGoGo, one of several very cool new crowd funding services that makes it easy to get support and feel good about giving it, this one seemingly focused on media production.

Alternative services include:

  • KickStarter –  currently the largest crowd funding service in the world, with renown from projects like Diaspora, voyURL and Eyewriter.
  • RocketHub – which crazily splits it’s site into ‘creatives’ and ‘fuelers’, which in my view makes it feel like less of a collaborative effort.
  • CatWalkGenius – invites visitors to “make history by investing in the first ever public-funded fashion collection” in return for profit and perks.
  • Profounder – which is the more overtly business-focused site, where entrepreneurship and managing your investors takes precedence.
  • Fans Next Door – a new site focused on the creative arts, with a wide mix of typically very small art and music projects.

So how do you make your project stand out? In Lucy’s case, she’s bundled her plea for funding along with her film’s plot and pre-release stills, followed by details of her problem:

Dominic is a man who lost everything the day the love of his life killed himself. Years on, he is so consumed with grief that he has become victim to his own dangerous imagination.

The track is Vera Lynn’s ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’, which plays on the radio during the suicide scene. The melancholy but hopeful lyrics of ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’ bring a wonderful dark irony to start of the film, as Will attempts to write his suicide note, then picks up the radio and climbs into the bath; Vera Lynn’s cheery tone fizzling into silence.

This high profile short film starring Daniel Caltagirone (The Pianist, The Beach) and produced by Partizan Films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) is in its final stages. The only thing left is to pay for publishing rights for the vital piece of music used in the first scene of the film.

Pretty compelling, no? But this alone isn’t going to open too many wallets (sorry Lucy!). What investors are really after is a return on investment: a share, a slice of the action, a reward, notoriety or plain old ego-massage.

The various perks for investing in the short film 'Dominic'

So IndieGoGo allows it’s hopefuls to offer sweeteners to the deal (image right). It was the promise of premiere tickets and a Limited Edition DVD that nudged me towards a $100 donation (that and the need for some fresh blog content 😉 ).

With all this give and take however, it does beg the question: what is IndieGoGo’s business model? Where is their slice of action?

I suspect services like these skim a percentage of total funding, so really what they’re after are for investees to use their services to attract big bids, meaning a greater profit for the facilitator. The other route to profit is to take on more small projects. The clever bit is that growth seems entirely driven by the entrepreneurship of it’s users: their traffic driving is done for them through friend-to-friend referrals and through the PR-ability of the projects they host.

These sites seem a perfect storm, where the investee, the investor, and the platform owner have their needs met. With such potential for mutual reward, I’d be interested to see whether these sites take on an eBay-like ecology, where mutual gain through the system becomes so commonplace that near-all smalltime entrepreneurship starts out as a project page online.

It’s certainly a trend in the film industry, where right now there are 5,319 listed film projects on IndieGoGo alone. I’ve seen some projects where for funding of, say, $10,000 you’ll be credited as an Executive Producer! This is a major shift in film production, reducing barriers to entry all the way down to the level of one’s own ability to self-promote.

For anyone interested in donating to this cause, here’s the link.
Maybe I’ll see you at the premiere.

My Personal Blogging Ecosystem

Hello! Before we get down to business, here’s just a quick announcement: This weekend I launched a new WordPress plugin called Foursquare Map – any readers with your own blogs, please check it out and let me know how it goes!

Another thing I did this week was to set up my own GTD system with a fresh Moleskine book. I’ll be using this set of icons to help me manage my growing to-do list. First on that list was to follow up on a note to “Map the Digital Cortex Ecosystem“, so *tick!*

What does that entail? Over the two years the site has been running, I’ve tried and tested loads of ways to syndicate content, drive traffic and grow my following. I think I’ve just about maxed-out on the optimisations I can make, and expect further growth to come solely from publishing interesting content. So what does my so-called ‘optimal’ set-up look like? Thanks to Paint.NET you can see for yourself (click for full-screen):

Some tips for building your own blogging ecosystem:

  • Try StumbleUpon – it shows me the coolest stuff every day because I’ve spent time telling it my interests, and then fine-tuning the system with thumbs up / down. I use it about 50 times a day.
  • Get Read It Later – when you don’t have time to give a site the attention it deserves, click the ‘RIL’ button and it’ll sync to the cloud, for reading at a later date. I’ve racked up so much cool stuff this way.
  • Use Delicious Effectively – it’s immensely powerful when used in the right way, and I use it to write one sentence descriptions, along with loads of tags, that publish to my Tumblr each day.
  • Start a Side Blog – some stuff is too cool not to blog about, but sometimes that stuff doesn’t warrant a full blog post (esp. when you’re busy). That’s where Tumblr comes in, and mine is now the fifth largest referrer here, after just two months!
  • Don’t Cross the Streams – sure it’s fun to publish everything everywhere, but it’s sensible to apply a bit of intelligence: what’s really the most appropriate content for that channel? That’s why only blog content goes to my Facebook fan page.
  • Twitter is WIN! – It’s an amazing tool for bloggers, both for content discovery and for content syndication. It’s especially powerful when paired with Tweetmeme buttons on your site (like below). The same is true of the Facebook ‘Like’ button.

There’s probably more to structuring a blogging ecosystem than this, like the ‘star system’ with Twitter/Spotify/Google or the X-Marks approach. There’s also the big question of how you go about measuring any of this stuff, and no word has been made of an actual content strategy but hey, that’s the eternal battle, eh bloggers?!

That’s it from me, hope you enjoyed this post. Let’s discuss tactics… Go!

Digital Cortex Is Back!!

Before I say anything about my months in the digital wilderness, let’s celebrate the return of fresh content to this blog with an expression of pure robotic joy:

Right then. What have I been up to?

  • Lots of cool, creative and techy stuff for MediaCom and MBA.
  • Went on an Android development course, and made an Asteroids game!
  • Moved to Ladbroke Grove from Clapham South. West is best.
  • Joined Foursquare and learned to love it.
  • Tried and failed to make a Foursquare widget for bloggers.
  • Joined the Gym – tickets to the gunshow now on sale.
  • Did a bit of consultancy for Moviestorm and Optricks Media.
  • Went on a few awesome nights out, inc. the Viral Video Chart relaunch.
  • Found some simply stunning new music which I’ll share with you soon!
  • Tried a pickled herring sandwich in Amsterdam.
  • Flew to Berlin and back again in a day.
  • Watched about a million films.
  • Proclaimed Warren Ellis the best comic book author of all time.
  • Created Digital Cortex Lite and filled it with interesting content tidbits.
  • Constantly tweeted across numiferous topics.
  • Redesigned Digital Cortex using the Thesis theme.
  • Bookmarked loads of interesting stuff to share with you here.

So quite a few things really. But please accept my apologies! I’m ready to be a better blogger. Starting now. Stay with me. Grab the feed. Let’s try this thing again.

Love Tom x