What journey have you taken to get this point?
As we scaled up the #WalkMyWorld project this year, I answered a lot of questions from students, participants, and colleagues about digital identity, and the information that we post online. As we started, people had questions about starting up an identity, and not following through with the completion of their identity. Specifically, they had questions about what would others think if you were Googled, and someone came across a halfway finished blog post, website, or social account. Would someone think less of you if you built, and left something broken online?
I also had concerns about students and participants in the #WalkMyWorld project. In this project, one of our goals is to get everyone out and interacting on social networks. Our thinking is that if we provide opportunities to share and connect in hybrid spaces, you’ll possibly start to bring this into your classroom. Some of the excitement in the project is lost when you post something to the hashtag…and no one responds. We had some participants even share that they felt lost or left out when their posts didn’t show up on the main thread and they weren’t being noticed.
To attend to these two concerns, I decided to create a false identity. Piece by piece I’ve been building up bogus identity, and periodically interacting with others using this identity. I also considered the fact that this anti-hero could act as a “teaching assistant” in the project if we was created to be a Twitter bot. Twitter bots have been shown to do some interesting things in online spaces. Recent thinking is that there are more bots on Twitter than actual “real” people. By creating a Twitter bot and releasing him into the #WalkMyWorld project, I could introduce participants to a “real” bot…and program the bot to welcome and interact with all users.
What trials and tribulations have you encountered along the path?
It was a challenge developing a fake identity and not really linking it to my own identity. This is hard, if not impossible on Facebook and Google+. On Twitter it was relatively easy. The only mistake I made was using my email account to create the bot. I wish that I created a phony email account as well. I’ll save this for the next steps.
I also wanted to create a website to help develop the backstory of the bot. I used Tumblr to create a website for the bot. Once again, I used my Tumblr account, and this might prove to be problematic in the future. My thinking is that I might want to share the bot with others as a bot version of Inanimate Alice. I’m working on a series of IFTTT recipes that will automatically post to the Tumblr account.
Finally, I researched exactly how to make a Twitter bot. There are numerous opportunities to create a bot using different programs and scripts. My goal is to create a bot that definitely seems believable, perhaps useful at times, and not annoying. I wanted a bot that would have a sense of whimsy and make people laugh, but also be completely believable. At this point, I have tried several different scripts and let the bot run wild online. I have to go back and delete posts that make the bot seem more “bot-like” and negatively affect the credibility/believability of the bot.
My latest attempts have been to use the Wolfram Alpha technique detailed here. I like this form of bot because it allows the bot to respond to queries posted to the hashtag using specific keywords. The one challenge that I have encountered is that it requires use of the Wolfram Alpha API…and that’ll cost me $0.025 a query. I’m still investigating this.
What great deeds and stories will you return to to give the world to make it a better place?
In this experiment I’ve been playing with the creation of a Twitter bot to interact with others in online spaces. To this end, I also wanted to identify possible opportunities to build a bot, or a limited presence to act as a “teaching assistant” online. Finally, I am interested to see what happens if we create something online, and don’t complete it. Would anyone care? Is there a problem if we build and break things online?
In this work I once again realized that, for the most part, most people could care less that this identity existed. I made several mistakes that I thought would give me away, or at least have people question the identity and intent of the bot. The worst of these mistakes occurred in class one night. I tweeted a music playlist that we were listening to in class. One student asked me who tweeted out the playlist. I explained what I was doing to the students…but no one cared. I thought it was cool. 🙂
Up to this point I have been building and modifying the bot. I plan on finding a good way to get the bot operating (for free) and set him loose online. My hope is to have him operate as a supportive element, and marketing/promotional force for the #WalkMyWorld project. As people ask, or tweet about the project, he’ll pop up and answer questions. I’m still tweaking, but I’m learning a lot about how we (real human beings) socialize online…and how the bots interact with us.
My anti-hero: Barton Miki
You can find and follow Barton Miki online. His Tumblr site is available here. If you’re interested in helping out, contact me and I’ll share the log-in info. I’ll also continue to document the development of the bot here on this blog.
Cover image CC BY-NC 2.0 Jenn and Tony Bot
Top image CC BY-NC 2.0 Jenn and Tony Bot
Middle image CC BY-NC 2.0 Jenn and Tony Bot
Bottom image CC BY-NC 2.0 Jenn and Tony Bot