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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Online Social Life Is Hard! Let Robots Do It for You

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2011 at 7:30 AM


Dear Anna,

I have gotten a little overwhelmed with all of my social media presences. I recently read about a service called where I can have a bot act as my online presence, and it is supposed to post in my voice based on my previous posts. This seems like a fantastic service and would save me a ton of time while keeping up my online identities. But I'm worried about it not seeming like me and inviting my ex out to an all-you-can eat Chinese restaurant or sending my boss links to Star Wars/Star Trek mash-up fanfiction, when clearly I would be doing those things in the opposite order. Do you know how this program works and if it will actually sound like me? How likely is it to post something I wouldn't post in real life?


First of all, nobody is required to be on any social networks, let alone enough social networks to make you feel "overwhelmed." Are you really so busy that you need a robot to tell your grandma happy birthday on Facebook? I'm also not even going to address the Star Trek fanfic mash-up bit. If you're not committed to the cause, then you deserve neither Chinese take-out nor Takei.

For those unaware of this mystical new "reality" available to us, is a site that allows you to add a "virtual prosthesis" on Facebook or Twitter by installing a bot on your profile to act as you. The bot posts status updates, adds friends/followers, and supposedly mimics the language you use. The description from its website states:

From keywords, content analysis, and activity analysis, the bot attempts to simulate the activity of the user, to improve it by feeding his account, and to create new contacts with other users.

I decided to try it by installing the bot on a side-project Twitter account for a pun blog called ... That's Punny. I chose the highest activity setting, and over a 24-hour period, the bot tweeted four things:


Not exactly riveting, right? But not wildly inappropriate either. Granted, the stream for @thatspunny is hardly anything to tweet home about, but, well, yawn. I also tweeted at the bot from my main account to see whether it would respond. I asked, why are you so awesome? And the bot replied, "Not many people express themselves that way." Then I was like, quit judging me, bot-ch! (Now we're not speaking to each other.)

I didn't really want to connect the bot to my Facebook account, because why should I be your guinea pig, lazyface? Thankfully, has a Flickr feed that showcases, well, exactly that kind of non sequitur jargon you would expect a bot to say when interacting with real people. Yilly Weng is the bot in this one, in case that's not immediately obvious:

This kind of reads like a semi-literate first date scenario, where both are not listening at all because they are thinking, "Can we get to the blow jobs already?" Also, "My eyes is urs"? Maybe these are both bots, actually. Now I'm questioning everything!

If your goal with installing a replicant is to decrease your social media load, it seems like this would serve the opposite purpose. Now you'd have to go in and explain all the weird shit "you" have been saying to people. Here's another sample from Flickr, lest you think I am unfairly judging these poor bots.

Yes. Well. To put another way, it's 2011 and we can't even get auto-flush toilets to work right. Would you really trust a robot to be a stand-in for your digital persona?

Judging by the explanatory video below, it seems like rep.licants is in on the joke. A bot does the voiceover, explaining that if you feel "personal worthless" then a bot will have no trouble replicating your sad, little existence and finding you "friends." Also, as Fast Company reminds us, rep.licants takes its name from Blade Runner. "In the movie, replicants were emotionally immature, delusional, and destined to self-destruct. Isn't that basically how most people are on social networks already?"

Fascinating. What I really want to know though is would you like to hear a joke? Me, my friend?


Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook

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