Hey, everyone. I’m Rob Dubbin. I came into bots through content generation, through trying to make bots that said interesting things. And I started to get more into bots that were on Twitter, whose character kinda came from the way that they would interact with other people. So that got me from sort of the posting side of the Twitter API to the more mechanical side of the Twitter API. You know, favorites and followers and stuff like that. And through that I kind of became interested in ways of automating my own relationship with Twitter.
I made something called the megafave, which I created a sort of small botnet of six other accounts and hooked them up to the Streaming API so that whenever I fave something on Twitter they also fave it. So my Twitter faves essentially count as seven. And it’s been a funny thing to see people sort of see it for the first time. I’ve had people tell me they get the notifications all in a stream. I have a lot of people who @-reply me after I do it with a screenshot of it, which is pretty fun.
I also made something that I don’t really have a name for, but I guess it’s the follow lottery, where I got really anxious about following a lot of people on Twitter, like eight or nine hundred people It was becoming unreadable for me. And I wanted to narrow down the number of people that that was, but I found that when I tried to actually sit down and do it manually, I got really anxious and it was difficult to think about the [connection problems] I got anxious about hurting people’s feelings and the weird social sort of calculus of what does it mean to follow someone, and how would it feel for me not to follow someone or whatever. So what I did was I just abdicated all choice to a random algorithm that followed a small manageable number of people, around 175 at random every week after dumping everyone that I was following, and then just re-following people from the pool. And I do that once a week and it feels great, and Twitter is awesome, and I get this smaller, narrower kind of slice of it week to week.
All of that is preamble to saying that I recently got to thinking about doing this for, you know, both of these things sort of enriched my personal experience of Twitter. But then I also got to thinking about trying to use this idea of the fact that Twitter exposes so much of its functionality to programmatic access, and to use that to sort of help people who, or just kind of try to maybe empathize with people who have a very different experience of Twitter than I do. And that sort of came to a head recently with all the harassment that people have been getting through Twitter.
So what I did was I made a pretty powerful anti-harassment tool, and I’m kind of leery of… It’s one of those things that like I, I feel weird about it because I don’t have a tremendous use for it myself, but I know that other people do. And I’ve talked to people about this, and I sort of made the decision not to put it on Github or be public about it for mainly the reason that I think Twitter is kind of weird with harassment, and I think they’re weird with blocking, and I think they have a strange track record of making the tools that are useful to people who are trying to protect themselves and be safer sort of weirdly harder to access and kind of obscure. For instance, in their API the blocking event is actually hard to find. There’s supposed to be an event for it in the event stream, but it’s broken. And so you actually have to parse the raw data stream on the user stream branch of the API in order to access it, and know that you’ve blocked someone.
The other weird thing about having something like this is that there’s a fairly high barrier to entry for setting people up with it because as someone else mentioned one of the hardest parts of making a bot can be getting your API keys, and knowing where to find them, and just knowing how to manage all of that.
So where I landed on it was I have this thing, I know it works. I kind of wanted to put it in the hands of people who both needed it and were sort of capable of giving it to other people, so that when someone was in a situation where they had a lot of people coming after them, they could reach out to somebody or someone could help set them up with this and they could hopefully use it to make their lives on Twitter a little better. So I’m just going to conclude by saying if you meet that description, or if you know someone who meets that description please get in touch with me, and I would be happy to show you what I made. Maybe the best thing to do is open source it, and I’d love to talk to anyone who thinks that’s the case. I just don’t want Twitter to break it because they’re worried people are going to use it to give brands [less] access to their users or something like that.
So that’s it. Thanks for having me and feel free to reach out. I’m @robdubbin on Twitter, or just dubbin-at-gmail if you want to email me.