Like to Continue, a fictionbot
14.50, Wednesday 25 Nov 2015 Link to this post
I wrote a poem on Twitter. It’s 36 tweets long, and happens entirely in your notifications panel.
Or maybe what I made is a fictionbot. You say “hi” to it and it tells you a story. You get sent each line only when you like the last. The story is about liking, and continuing.
If it gets too much attention it’ll break, that’s part of the fun.
Whys and hows
You can tell I’m interested in chatbots and - with my business hat on - I’m especially excited about digital coworker bots, being pioneered by the likes of Howdy which helps you run meetings (see screenshots). All the energy is around Slack which is bot-friendly group messaging for work… a great product and a great marketing strategy: They’ve figured out how to make virality work in enterprise by having a frictionless on-ramp below the expense threshold and treating the team as the viral atomic unit.
And back in the day, I used to make chatbots that you used individually on AIM. For instance, googlematic let you search Google – and that got me a bunch of nice attention, and in a bunch of trouble too.
But I’m into Twitter. Twitter is something between these and something different too. Twitter is a place where people talk to each other and groups. It’s not quite personal, and it’s not focused on work… it’s public. I’m curious about what you can do with bots in public space. I’m in love with @mothgenerator and its gorgeous computer-generated moths. But more than that, there’s something for me about interactions that happen over time, and interactions that can start with one person and widen up to more people, sometimes deliberately and sometimes accidentally because they’re visible. It seems like there’s a lot of creative potential there. Stories! Text adventures! Collaborative poems!
So much potential.
Which is why I’m taking my own advice and exploring the potential with art. Well I say art. Amateur poetry really.
I wanted to explore the feeling of a like and in particular waiting for a response, especially because Twitter just shifted from faves to likes. So that’s what I wrote. Made. Wrote.
Technically, I have a basic Python 3 app that I use to get started on any new project. It has everything I want already set up… sign in via Twitter, a database capable of storing emoji, nice web templates, email error logging, solid deployment to my webserver, and an asynchronous loop to run background tasks like listening for tweet activity. Custom for how I tend to work. It’s taken me a while to get happy with this (my coding is rusty) but it’s neat that I can get something written and live in an hour instead of a week.
And I’ve learnt a ton about the tech things like Twitter limits and what you can and cannot see via the API (such as: you can see @-mentions from users you don’t follow, but you won’t get notified of their likes on your tweets). And lots of details about how to make a system where it won’t break in-progress stories when I edit the words.
But mainly I’ve been seeing how reading (and having to like!) tweets feels, versus lines on paper, and how that changes what I write. So I’ve spent most of my time on the words not the code, which is just as it should be.
I want to keep digging with fictionbots. Like I said above, there’s so much potential. If you’d like to collaborate, I’d be up for chatting… it would be great to work on a little project with someone who can actually write!
Anyway, nice to have shipped something, no matter how simple, or rather, snuck it out the door. Or rather rather - because it’s a poem - published. I hope you like it.