Like to Continue, a fictionbot

14.50, Wednesday 25 Nov 2015

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.

So it’s called @liketocontinue and you should just introduce yourself to start. Then watch out for what it tweets at you, and like to continue.

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.

Update August 19, 2021:

This bot hasn’t been online for some time, so I figured I should archive the words here.

The poem is read line by line as a series of tweet. The reader has to tap “like” (a heart) on each tweet before the next is delivered. The final line gives no response.

Like this to continue, I’ll tweet you back

Reader, who are you? No need to reply to my questions. Just like, every time (like to continue)

Me? I like papers with long titles. The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.

The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Summary: Power always exists. Pretending otherwise means you can’t talk about it

And there are no ghosts. There are no angels. There’s no magic in the universe

Sure when a person is suddenly absent all that’s left is memories of them and what they left behind

Such as: The habit of a son to comb his hair to one side

And this legacy has its own weight, its own agency in our lives. What else do we call that but a ghost?

Absences are concrete, you know? They’re there, in their own way

All those homophones!

Another homophone: Like meaning love and like meaning want and like meaning similar. Different meanings, same word

Like this tweet.

Also unreasonably effective? How the Internet carries human feeling. My curiosity. Our togetherness. A miracle

Like the air carries the smell of rain on the hot earth

You know that feeling when someone you love sends you a text? Hey, just thinking about you

I wonder who you imagined, just then

Hey, if my cat could tweet, would that feel the same? Or is my love for her purely physical?

Her helplessness and her claws, her fuzzy belly, her struggle with feline aloofness and her affection despite herself

Is it ok to play lets-pretend on the internet? Or is that telling fibs?

I miss fiction

I miss my dad

There’s someone who, when you’re writing, you’re writing for them


At the beginning of a relationship, you have to take risks. It’s called turning towards. I think you’re great :)

omg your fuzzy belly, I want to eat you up!

What if they don’t like it? What if they DO

Vulnerability is scary. You wait. Then they say: Hey, I had fun today

with you :)

You dance together

We dance together

And I’m always there for you, that’s my promise

If I wasn’t here it would be an amputation. Not even a ghost which at least does its hauntings.

At least a ghost THROWS shit off the SHELVES

When all you want is to hear me say just one more time, hey I like you too :)

but i’m not even a ghost. and no matter what you want, there’s no continuing now

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