Old News for Twitter

Yesterday I finished a little development project to build a TwitterBot for New Zealand’s online newspaper archive Papers Past.

What’s a “TwitterBot”? It’s a software application that autonomously (robotically, hence “-bot”) sends tweets. There are a lot of TwitterBots tweeting about all kinds of things. Tim Sherratt has produced a few, including one called @TroveNewsBot which tweets links to articles from the Australian online newspaper archive of Trove, and this was a direct inspiration for my TwitterBot. Recently Hugh Rundle produced a TwitterBot called Aus GLAM Blog Bot that tweets links to blog posts by people blogging in the Australian GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector. People like me. I’m looking forward to seeing Hugh’s bot tweeting about my bot.

One nice thing about making a TwitterBot is the tight constraints you have to work under. That 140-character limit keeps you focused on doing one thing. Another nice thing about them is they are public performers; they get up on stage in front of the world and sing and dance, or they shout weird slogans, or whatever. If they are interesting, people will follow them. The other great thing about them is that they are autonomous; not even their creators know exactly what they will do and say.

Tim’s bots are written in Python, which is his programming language of choice. Hugh chose to write his in Javascript. My bot is written in XProc, which is a programming language designed for processing markup (XML and HTML) and pushing data around on the web. I’ve been using it for a while, and I thought it would be nice to add some tools to my XProc toolbox for dealing with Twitter. XML hackers may like to check out the source code for @NZPaperBot, on GitHub.

So I set my robot the task of tweeting pictures from newspapers that were published exactly 100 years ago, and after a bit of hacking with Papers Past and with Twitter, my bot posted its first tweet yesterday:

I’m looking forward to seeing what else it comes up with, and to expanding its behaviour in future. I’d like to see it responding to other people’s tweets, and to the tweets of other bots!

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