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I like it when a bot makes me smile.
The way that this deceptively simple bot works: it searches 1% of the Twitter stream for tweets that contain the phrase “I like it when,” cleans them up of all mentions, hashtags, and special characters to distill a sentence starting with that phrase, checks them against and stores them in a database to avoid repetition, and tweets them every few minutes. By stripping them of all those identifiers, what comes through is a more universally human expression. The result is an almost invariably positive snippet of humanity.
I like it when people are mad sometimes because I want to try and put a smile on their face.
— the way bot (@thewaybot) June 3, 2014
Upon exploring the folder that contains the source code in GitHub, titled “NovelHarvesterBot,” I found an earlier exploration of the concept which was used to produce a novel. In this case, Brody used an earlier version of this program to harvest a large amount of sentences starting with “the way that” and organized them into a 99-page novel, titled “The Way That I’m Crying so Hard I Have to Gasp For Air – by Eli Brody and 5,134 friends” (download pdf). The resulting novel is more interesting as a conceptual writing project than it is readable, in part because reading such a lengthy accumulation of sentences beginning with “The way that” gets tedious quickly, even if cut into paragraphs and chapters. The novel format also creates the expectation of a plot, characters, and other narrative organizational principles which the constraint can’t provide. Reading this text out loud instantly gestures towards poetry, however, because the repetition becomes incantatory and pulls together audibly and rhetorically lines which would normally be seen as non-sequitur. I suspect Brody must’ve intuited the poetic potential of this bot, reprogrammed it to carry out its operations on a new phrase (“I like it when”), and set it loose to share its distilled language on the Twitter stream.
I like it when reading a Twitter timeline makes me want to read the individual Tweets like lines in a poem because my mind seeks to make connections between the juxtaposed lines. The way that these tweets delight and surprise me when I’m reading my own Twitter stream is because someone, somewhere, somewhen shared a little positive tweet to his or her followers, and @thewaybot collected that voice and shared it with me.
Coda: For more details on how this bot works (or to produce a remix of it), here’s a link to the source code for its initial commit. Many thanks to Colin Bayer (@vogon), for finding the published code and author. Also important to mention, this project and the initial novel it produced was inspired by Darius Kazemi’s NaNoGenMo (National Novel Generation Month – #NaNoGenMo) project.
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