Leonardo Flores: Hi, every­one. I’m here to talk about pub­lish­ing and pre­serv­ing bots. This is both a few ideas, and an invi­ta­tion. So, let’s quick­ly get to it.

Just a quick thing about my work on bots for those who might not be famil­iar with me. You can see me on Twitter. During the sum­mer, I put togeth­er this WordPress site that’s a bot forum. You all have an invi­ta­tion to join it. It’s a space to have con­ver­sa­tions about bots. So I invite you to do this if you like. I’m most­ly not so much a bot mak­er but a schol­ar of bots and elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture. I’ve reviewed and com­piled resources on bots. Many of you I’ve reviewed and, not every­one, but I’m always inter­est­ed and I’m always want­i­ng to con­tin­ue read­ing and review­ing and appre­ci­at­ing bots, and spread­ing it to the world.

The project I real­ly want to talk about is, I’m part of the Electronic Literature Collection edi­to­r­i­al col­lec­tive, and this means that we’re putting togeth­er this col­lec­tion of elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture. The ELO, the Electronic Literature Organization has pub­lished two of these col­lec­tions in the past, in 2006 and 2011. They are won­der­ful resources for study­ing, teach­ing, expe­ri­enc­ing elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture. You might ask your­selves What is elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture?” and I’m going to bor­row a lit­tle note from Nick Montfort, who used this dis­tinc­tion very well a cou­ple of years ago in a pre­sen­ta­tion. First of all e‑lit is not e‑books. E‑books are the sort of industry-driven rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the book in dig­i­tal media. They’re top-down, they’re real­ly about sell­ing books in devices. Selling devices as well. 


But e‑literature is this set of grass­root exper­i­men­tal prac­tices that embrace the poten­tial of dig­i­tal media tech­nolo­gies to cre­ate inno­v­a­tive engage­ments with lan­guage. It’s what you’re doing. It’s essen­tial­ly just peo­ple using dig­i­tal media to cre­ate and be cre­ative, and to engage lan­guage with those tech­nolo­gies. So there’s a ton of dif­fer­ent gen­res that have devel­oped around this. E‑lit is also known by many dif­fer­ent names, e‑lit, e‑literature, dig­i­tal lit­er­a­ture, elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture, but you can see a bunch of dif­fer­ent gen­res that have devel­oped over the years, and bots are one of those gen­res and I think a very inter­est­ing and vital one.

And it’s dig­i­tal con­text, right? They have these mate­r­i­al depen­den­cies. In this case, we see a lot of social net­work use. Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, oth­ers have been men­tioned. And these plat­forms are nec­es­sary but also pro­duc­tive­ly cre­ative spaces for us to mess around with. The work with the Electronic Literature Collection vol­ume 3 is we’ve had this open call for sub­mis­sions which end­ed on November 5 [2014]. I sent a lot of invi­ta­tions out there to get some bots to be con­sid­ered, to be sub­mit­ted. And I think the ques­tion of why should we pub­lish a bot? Aren’t bots already pub­lished on Twitter? I think the idea of pub­lish­ing a bot in the ELC3 aims to do more. We want to con­tex­tu­al­ize the bots for the audi­ence of the ELC3, peo­ple who study and are inter­est­ed in elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture. To frame bots as a kind of elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture. To link to the live bot on Twitter. But we also want to offer mate­ri­als so those bots can be stud­ied. We want to pre­serve it for future gen­er­a­tions. So what does this mean, exactly?

When we say we want to pub­lish a bot, we want to pub­lish an intro­duc­tion to the bot; I men­tioned that already. And we want to link to the live Twitter bot, but also I think it’s impor­tant to pub­lish the bot’s source code. That way peo­ple can see how it works, they can remix it if they like, or repli­cate the engine, or per­form code read­ings on that source code. I want to pub­lish, and we want to pub­lish, a snap­shot of the bot’s activ­i­ty. So the Twitter archive that’s down­load­able. We can pro­vide the raw CSV file, but we also would want to pro­duce a nice inter­face to see the data. It might end up just being a big link to the tweets, and links to the indi­vid­ual tweets’ URLs, because I think that’s real­ly inter­est­ing as well. Whenever a bot tweets some­thing it is this dig­i­tal object that exists on Twitter, and peo­ple can inter­act with that dig­i­tal object. They reply to it, they favorite, they retweet. It gains a life of its own, so I want to pro­vide access to those objects on the web. 

I also want, and I’m think­ing we might want to scrape some data on that indi­vid­ual tweet. If Twitter were to sud­den­ly crash and burn, we want this to sur­vive. We want to have at least a sense of, at the moment of pub­li­ca­tion, how was that tweet per­ceived? Just to kind of gath­er that data and make it part of what we pub­lish. And of course, as long as Twitter’s there, as long as they hon­or and main­tain those links, won­der­ful. You can just fol­low the link and see the updat­ed ver­sion, the live ver­sion. But again, if it crash­es and burns, we still have a record of it. I think that’s impor­tant as well. I’m think­ing long-term preser­va­tion here.

Some con­cerns. Attribution and per­mis­sion are con­cerns. For exam­ple a bot with copy­right­ed source mate­ri­als. Can we pub­lish that with­out get­ting the per­mis­sion, or pay­ing the copy­right own­ers, for that mate­r­i­al? I’m not sure about some of these things. The ques­tion has already been raised about what con­sti­tutes Fair Use, and whether some­thing is being changed enough. Also do we need to con­tact and get per­mis­sion of all of @pentametron’s and @haikud2’s attrib­uted retweets and tweets? They’re retweet­ing oth­er peo­ples’ tweets, isn’t that their prop­er­ty? Can we pub­lish that? I want to, and my incli­na­tion is yes we must. But at the same time, it might be com­pli­cat­ed. So it’s some­thing worth think­ing about. And of course the oth­er con­cern is if Twitter crash­es, or if there’s anoth­er bot­poca­lypse, and it all comes crash­ing down. I do want us to have a record that this hap­pened, even if the live bot does­n’t work any­more. Even if Twitter itself does­n’t work any­more. I would like for there to be a record in the ELC3 that these bots exist­ed, and that peo­ple inter­act­ed with them, and they respond­ed to them, and they pro­duced things, and here’s a sam­pling of that, here’s a snap­shot of that.

So I want to make a spe­cial invi­ta­tion to you all. The call for sub­mis­sions closed on November 5 [2014] but between us (And don’t tell any­one please; pre­tend this is not stream­ing live on the Internet.) the form is still open, which means you can still sub­mit your bot, if you’re inter­est­ed. If your bot kind of fits this idea of e‑lit, of this sort of engage­ment with lan­guage, there’s the link. Go and sub­mit the bots, and we will con­sid­er them. This win­dow, we will even­tu­al­ly shut down the sub­mis­sion form. We’ve already received over 400 sub­mis­sions, and we’re think­ing to pub­lish about six­ty works. So this will be com­pet­i­tive. However I think these bots can com­pete, and can com­pete very well. So I’m very inter­est­ed in this, and we can have a con­ver­sa­tion about this. If you have ques­tions, com­ments, ideas, even beyond the scope of this par­tic­u­lar bot sum­mit, here’s all my con­tact infor­ma­tion. Get in touch with me. Ask me the ques­tions. Submit more than one bot. Give us some mate­r­i­al to think about. And I’ll be very grate­ful. Thank you all.


Darius Kazemi: We did have a ques­tion from Matt Schneider, ask­ing about preser­va­tion. This is sort of a mechan­i­cal ques­tion about preser­va­tion and con­cern­ing bots that use media, and rich media essen­tial­ly, and that cap­tur­ing the tweet is often not enough. Or even if a bot links to a web site and expects the user to vis­it that web site. You might want that web site in that con­text as well.

Leonardo Flores: Yeah, we can’t copy the whole Internet. We do have some space con­straints. However, we’ll try to archive the things that are sort of in the purview of that bot how­ev­er much we can. We’ll try to do as much as we can. But of course it’s a concern.

Darius: Allison can you talk about the excel­lent point you brought up in the chat?

Allison Parrish: This is some­thing I feel gets left out of a lot of these disc­s­sions of pre­serv­ing tech­nol­o­gy, like it’s kind of a big sub-field in elec­tron­ic lit­er­a­ture stuff, in par­tic­u­lar. But I think the impor­tant thing (This isn’t a ques­tion but Darius is mak­ing me say it.) I think an impor­tant and inter­est­ing thing to do would be to do some ethno­graph­ic work in addi­tion to archiv­ing work, and inter­view­ing peo­ple about their expe­ri­ence of read­ing or fol­low­ing or using a bot. And so that we cap­ture a lit­tle bit of— because like you say you can’t cap­ture the entire Internet, but we can have a record of some­body’s expe­ri­ence of doing that par­tic­u­lar thing. I won­der what you think of that idea of includ­ing a lit­tle bit of ethno­graph­ic work in addi­tion to the the tech­ni­cal work of actu­al­ly doing this archiving.

Leonardo Flores: Absolutely. I think if you’ve seen the Electronic Literature Collections, they all have a nice lit­tle intro­duc­tion to each work. And I think this is a good space to include that kind of mate­r­i­al. This Electronic Literature Collection can be what we make of it, and I’m game. I’m game and inter­est­ed in con­sid­er­ing any kind of addi­tion­al mate­r­i­al that enrich­es the expe­ri­ence of the work, and the doc­u­men­ta­tion of the work, but we can doc­u­ment expe­ri­ences of the work as well as the work itself.

Darius: Other ques­tions, or com­ments on preservation?

Leonardo Flores: Do you think this might work? I think it seems sound, right? You can down­load the archive, you can get the source files, so at least that we can do.

Darius: I think it def­i­nite­ly seems sound. Then there’s just, how far do you take it? There’s an infi­nite amount of work that you can do in archiv­ing, and I think it’s a mat­ter of draw­ing lines, and maybe that’s a line that expands where nec­es­sary. Maybe it’s up to a bot cre­ator to decide, Oh well, I want ethno­gra­phies, and I want to scrape all the pages that I’m ref­er­enc­ing” and that sort of thing as well. That’s my thought on that. I guesss Nick and then Joel and then Eric.

Nick Montfort: I’m just going to men­tion we have in the sec­ond vol­ume of the Electronic Literature Collection already doc­u­men­ta­tion of instal­la­tions. Like work that was done in a cave in the ground, and var­i­ous places where we don’t have the work itself there. But we have infor­ma­tion about it to show you some of what it was like. So we haven’t done this with bots, but we’ve already done sim­i­lar types of work in the mak­ing that mate­r­i­al avail­able along­side com­put­er pro­grams that run, and multi-media pieces that work and so on, so that peo­ple do get this rich­er idea, what cre­ative activ­i­ty’s going on.

Allison: To be clear, I was­n’t talk­ing about some per­ceived prob­lem with the Electronic Literature Collection. I was just think­ing, my point is that we could have a perfectly-preserved Commodore 64 or some­thing, but it does­n’t mean any­thing to have just that arti­fact sit­ting there unless we also know what peo­ple did with it.

Darius: Joel?

Joel McCoy: I was just going to say that you’ve from the, min­i­mum viable idea of what those archives are going to be… Ever since the @horse_ebooks sit­u­a­tion, a lot of peo­ple are very inter­est­ed in hav­ing the archive for that account, because at this point if you by by what’s still avail­able in its archive, and what Favstar has got in most engage­ment, it’s always the con­tent since it was tak­en over by a human being. It’s always been very inter­est­ing, even a a very basic lev­el of Alright, let’s bisect this archive into when it was script and when it was an art project.” So even just the raw tweet con­tent, at least in that case, would be a very inter­est­ing piece of his­to­ry to use. We don’t have it.

Leonardo Flores: I would love, if any­one knows a way to con­tact the @horse_ebooks per­son. I’ve been try­ing, I’ve been ask­ing around, but I don’t know how. I haven’t been able to get a hold of, I for­get his name, but I haven’t been able to get a hold of him. I think it’s an impor­tant phenomenon.

Darius: Which part, though? The Russian who ran a spam account, or the artist who ran the not-bot, I guess?

Leonardo Flores: The one who bought the bot. I think it’d be inter­est­ing to include that piece. It was wild­ly pop­u­lar. And to do a study of the gen­er­at­ed part ver­sus the per­for­ma­tive, the human per­for­mance part, I think would be interesting.

Darius: Eric, you had a comment.

Eric: One thing that comes to mind if we’re going to be archiv­ing source code for bots, is I feel like with any of these soft­ware preser­va­tion projects there’s always the prob­lem of, you have source code but can any­one actu­al­ly run it or use it or get it to do any­thing? And espe­cial­ly since Twitter con­trols the API to their ser­vice, a lot of the bot source code, at least in my expe­ri­ence, is often deal­ing with these types of APIs that change over time. So I was won­der­ing A, what your thoughts on that are and then B, is if we’re going to start archiv­ing bots in a seri­ous way, is there some kind of—I almost want to say like a Twitter vir­tu­al machine or some­thing we could pro­gram that will be sta­ble. That in thir­ty years or some­thing you could actu­al­ly fire it up and run a Twitter bot and get it to do some­thing, as opposed to like, the ser­vice may not exist any­more, the oper­at­ing sys­tem might be dif­fer­ent. It just seems very ephemer­al right now.

Offscreen 1: I think that’s called [Archer?].

Leonardo Flores: I would love to have a small Twitter just run­ning inside of the Electronic Literature Collection vol­ume 3. As a mat­ter of fact last night I was hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Susan Garfinkel of the Library of Congress. I’m at the American Studies Association con­fer­ence right now. She was sug­gest­ing even cre­at­ing this sort of mini Twitter-like space where some­one could go inter­act with the bots, and read, like to pub­lish ten or twelve or twen­ty bots in the ELC3, and have a lit­tle space where some­one could poten­tial­ly inter­act with the bots. But then that would require all kinds of addi­tion­al pro­gram­ming. It would be a dif­fer­ent kind of expe­ri­ence. So I think things break, but if you have the orig­i­nal source code, maybe twen­ty years from now some­one can say, Well all we need to do is recon­struct this, this, this, and this and [bring] the bot back to life, kind of fix it.”

Darius: I think that real­ly depends on the nature of the bot, too. If it’s a bot that sources from peo­ple say­ing they’re lone­ly on Twitter, for exam­ple, unless you sam­ple Twitter for six months and just run it on a con­stant loop, even then you’re going to get this weird sce­nario where it’s like, this is frozen in time. One of the things I like about bots is, like green bots, as Mark Sample would call them (Second Mark Sample cita­tion!) is that they evolve with the world. So as slang evolves on Twitter, as memes evolve on Twitter, as news comes out, they stay top­i­cal. And I think it’s inter­est­ing, like I would be inter­est­ed in mak­ing a closed time loop of Twitter that could be sam­pled or some­thing and made a source. I think it would be imper­fect, but also like emu­lat­ing a Nintendo is imper­fect, too. I’m cer­tain­ly glad I live in a world where we can emu­late Nintendos ver­sus nev­er play­ing Nintendo games ever again.

Joel: It’s like the weird idea of res­ur­rect­ing the dead machine from thou­sands of years ago ver­sus trans­lat­ing the con­tent of old Amiga or Tandy man­u­als or what­ev­er, and being like, Here’s what this thing did. Here’s what it looks like to be brought alive in our world that we’ve liv­ing in.” And I don’t know if res­ur­rect­ing the ancient machine the way that our wise fore­bears left it to us is any bet­ter than recre­at­ing it in the world that we’re now in. So the idea of get­ting this Stasis Twitter” seems less engag­ing than the idea of sim­u­lat­ing a Twitter stream with RSS or some oth­er sys­tem. Or what­ev­er the mod­ern net­work is, or port­ing it to what­ev­er social net­work is pop­u­lar [cross-talk]. That seems more fruit­ful as the pro­ce­dur­al ver­sus con­tent [emu­lat­ing?] that he was talk­ing about.

Darius: I think that almost touch­es on some of the points Nick talked about in the trans­la­tion work, where you want to just trans­late the sense of the work rather than shoot for a mechan­i­cal idea.

Leonardo Flores: And I think that’s why it’s impor­tant to have that sort of snap­shot of the moment. Because it is a per­for­mance. Right now what we can doc­u­ment is the source code, but also the per­for­mance of the bot’s life, up to the moment in which, as late as we can before going to press so to speak, with the col­lec­tion. And there­fore that can survive.

Darius: You think like, hap­pen­ings or Situationst per­for­mances and things like that. We have archives of them, but I’m nev­er going to know what’s it’s going to be like in Paris in the 60s so I’m just not going to have that con­text, and the best I can do is read peo­ple write about it, either from that time or peo­ple who were there or have stud­ied it a lot. Nick.

Nick Montfort: I just want to make a bit of a case for keep­ing func­tion­ing arti­fi­cial arti­facts around. Because think about some­thing like ELIZA, to speak of bots. Fifty years lat­er, we still have psy­chother­a­py. You can under­stand what that is, even if we did­n’t under­stand exact­ly as in the 60s. Computers are cer­tain­ly at a dif­fer­ent stage, and devel­op­ment of nat­ur­al lan­guage inter­faces is dif­fer­ent, and so on. But it’s not just a mat­ter of think­ing about how did that work on a teleprint­er, back in 1965, and what was the office like and what was that expe­ri­ence. If we become too obsessed with try­ing to recre­ate that, we don’t give our­selves the per­mis­sion to have our own expe­ri­ences today with the same com­pu­ta­tion­al work, the same piece of art or lit­er­a­ture that hap­pens to be a com­put­er pro­gram. You don’t go to the art muse­um, you go to the Met, you don’t say, Okay let’s expe­ri­ences these exact­ly as they did in Egypt 2000 years ago.” We rec­og­nize that we live in the world today, and we’re look­ing at works that have been main­tained and exist now. So I think it’s sen­si­ble to con­sid­er pre­serv­ing things from an ethno­graph­ic stand­point and con­sid­er­ing how peo­ple use them, but not all this stuff will only be of the moment. Some of it might be inter­est­ing in fifty, a hun­dred, or more years. And hav­ing it around, hav­ing source code around to have it run is part of that.

Darius: Yeah, it’s a yes, and” type sit­u­a­tion. I don’t think any­one’s say­ing we should throw the source code out the win­dow. Although I could take that approach.

Nick: Or on the com­mand line.

Further Reference

Darius Kazemi’s home page for Bot Summit 2014, with YouTube links to indi­vid­ual ses­sions, and a log of the IRC channel.

Leonardo has post­ed the slides for his pre­sen­ta­tion at his site.