Other gubbins

Will your autotweeting twin be a turbo-troll?

Blue bird tweets and sings on smartphoneToday’s Independent carries a piece on LivesOn, a piece of software currently under development. LivesOn aims to analyse your tweets and then tweet on your behalf in your style on the topics you tweet about. So you can live on online, even after your demise IRL.

The idea of post-death tweeting would appear to be a bit of a gimmick to attract attention. It clearly worked.

Perhaps the most interesting comment in the article came towards the end. Dave Bedwood, a creative working at an ad agency heavily involved in social media, commented:

Artificial intelligence is the holy grail of computer science but what we want at first is to create a really useful tool for people living now. It would be your twin, posting the sorts of things you’re interested in so you can go off and use your time more wisely.

That got me thinking. How much do you automate online?

I don’t autotweet from my blog. But I rely on RSS Graffiti to autopost from the blog to Facebook. I am an occasional Buffer user. I’ve mucked about with IFTTT and toyed with scheduling using Hootsuite. I’ve gravitated towards using Sendible for scheduling tweets of links to my blogposts and posts to G+, flickr and wordpress.com. I don’t tend to schedule repeating tweets because I think they just clutter up everyone’s TL.

We use these tools both to save time and to time tweets so they appear when people are likely to be looking at Twitter. I don’t do a lot by way of optimising timing, but I’ve looked at tools like SocialBro that will suggest optimal patterns of tweeting via a (black boxed) analysis of when your followers are most likely to interact with material you circulate.

Many people who appear to be present most of the time online must be using these types of tools – unless their employers have an extremely lax policy towards personal social media use. The automation can occasionally become very apparent because autotweet or scheduling software misfires and a string of tweets appear all at once.

These types of packages also, to an extent, take the social out of social media. If, that is, you think the point of social media is synchronic communication and conversation. The tools turn it into rather more stilted diachronic exchange. Or, perhaps worse, straightforward broadcasting.

These tools can also, of course, lead to local difficulties. I have been asked why I was tweeting while in a meeting making an important decision. Of course, the answer was that I wasn’t tweeting. The machine was tweeting for me while I was doing something else. But there can be some slightly awkward moments.

And that takes me back to the quote from Bedwood. Wouldn’t the development of software that could tweet as your twin entirely undermine the point of social media?

We already have bot detecting software. You can imagine that if things develop in this direction then someone will be working on a social media Turing Test in an attempt to diagnose whether the conversation I’m having online is with someone who I might actually have a chance of meeting IRL. Because getting to meet people you’ve initially encountered online is one of the big pluses of social media.

You can also imagine the equivalent of High Frequency Trading in financial markets arriving in the Twitterverse, as your automated twin has an animated conversation with my automated twin. And we’re none the wiser for it.

Perhaps we’ll eventually get the social media equivalent of flash crashes triggered by algorithms trading in financial markets. While you’re in the pub having a genial conversation with your mates, your automated twin has picked up the Twitchfork and set a mob on some poor unsuspecting sole. You’ve become extremely unpopular on Twitter. You’re a turbo-troll. And all while in real life you were off using your time more wisely.

Will we head in the direction of greater automation? Who knows? But in the face of the challenges of maintaining a social media presence while having to juggle plenty of other things it seems highly likely. What follows from that? Again, who knows? Let’s hope it works out rather better than the automation of financial markets. This may have removed many of the idiosyncrasies brought to the market by human participants, but in the process it has rendered markets extremely fragile. Technology eh?

Image: © fabioberti.it – Fotolia.com

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