The art of the Twitter bot
Buckenham tells me that another aspect of Twitter bots is the enjoyment of play-acting that these bots are people. He tells me about the #botALLY hashtag, which draws members of the bot community under the playful banner of friends-of-bots.
“I don’t think it’s as successfully impersonating a human, it’s more just existing on an equal footing as a human – that the tweets are no less important than a human’s tweets,” Buckenham tells me. “It’s not a second class thing. The idea that Twitter is a commons that you can share with these alien, non-human entities that have their own rules. Where you treat them seriously as humans and play acting that they have rights and responsibilities. It’s all tongue in cheek, but at the same time it’s more interesting to engage with things that way than dismissively I think.”
“A Borgesian cacophony of possible words and characters.”
One project, NaNoGenMo, takes this playful approach and runs with it. Instead of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which aims to help people write a 50,000 word novel in one month, NaNoGenMo (National Novel Generation Month) encourages users to spend the whole of November writing code that generates a 50,000 word novel.
The result is often a Borgesian cacophony of possible words and characters. One resulting project, Alphabetical Order by Leonard Richardson, was generated by searching 47,000 plain-text public domain works for lines that contained no alphanumeric characters.
(Above: An extract from Alphabetical Order by Leonard Richardson)
Even if bot-made artworks may ultimately be non-human, the responses people have to their tweets can be very human. @youarecarrying is an account that, if you interact with it, gives you a series of inventory items. It then encourages you to draw the objects and post them alongside the hashtag, #iamcarrying.
Like retweeting lists of words from the dictionary, the fun of interacting with bots comes from humanising the machine. For bot makers, there’s joy to be had in throwing a self-perpetuating voice into the online cacophony, then seeing that voice scooped out of its original procedural context and re-framed elsewhere by real, flesh-and-blood people.
“A lot of bots feel like they are artworks that aesthetically respond to the way of reading on the internet. Especially ones that are purely creating noise and static, and comprehensible phrases mixed in with unicode garbage. I made a thing that creates animated gifs of random noise, and there’s this wonderful thing where I go on Tumblr and I scroll through and see art that’s been created on my server every hour. There’s a magical-ness to that, that a computer’s doing it on its own.”