Warning: You could be talking to a Twitter bot

When I started The Environment Site we had a feature on our discussion forums called eCoBoT.  This was a chat plugin.  It used fairly basic AI to enable you to have a conversation with it.  You would post a message, eCoBoT would make a reply based upon this input, and so on.  It was unlikely to ever pass the Turing Test (although some members did think it was one of the admin team pretending), but the results were often very funny.

That was several years ago and this kind of thing hasn't really moved any further away from the fringes.  I was reading today however about a Twitter Bot.  This isn't a TwitterBot in the sense of having something merely retweet or follow particular accounts.  This is a social bot that can actually hold conversations.  Apparently anyway.

The research had it's origins in a scepticism around claims by social media 'experts' that they could grow clients' Twitter networks and increase engagement with their followers.

"A lot of people you can hire now say they are really good at community engagement," says Tim Hwang, one of the authors of a research paper describing the socialbot experiments. Hwang and his colleagues wondered, "Can we measure those claims?"

They joined the Web Ecology Project, in particular a competition to see which team of researchers could gain the most @replies on Twitter.  There was nothing in the rules to say the process could not be automated, so they set about trying to win the competition by using bots.

To do this they followed 2,700 Twitter users over the course of 54 days.  The first 33 days were the control period, so no social bots were deployed.  The following 21 day period however saw 9 bots cut loose, one for each target group of 300 users.  Each bot was instructed to do things like retweet messages and introduce users to one another.


Interestingly it seems that many didn't seem to notice they were interacting with a bot.  The experiment found that each bot account attracted on average 62 new followers and received 33 incoming tweets, split between @mentions and retweets.

What's even more interesting is the impact of the bots on the target group.  Compared to the control period, the bots involvement saw a 43% increase in follows.  One group saw a whopping 355% increase.

With crowdturfing on the increase this is indeed an interesting development.  Can you see any positive use of this technology?  I'm not sure I can but look forward to hearing your comments.


8 thoughts on “Warning: You could be talking to a Twitter bot

  1. I think it is depends on the type of conversation you want to have with your customers/community. It might work if your main aim is to inform the community about new activities etc. However, if the community expects more conversation than being informed I think it can fail. Moreover, another issue to consider it your target group and the brand you represent. If your brand is sophisticated and your target at niche market your customers will require more in depth conversation in which automated replies can fail. If I was a member of very targeted community and find out I am talking to a computer I would be out of it.

  2. I think this reveals some of the limitations of Twitter as a platform — it's sometimes hard to let your personality come across in 140 characters. If most of what you do is post links to stuff you have found, or re-tweet others, then I think you'll end up being a somewhat "flat character" to borrow from literary analysis. Once you start to engage in conversations on Twitter (and I find that Twitter chats are an excellent way to do this), then I think more of who you are starts to come across. And I bet it's a little more challenging for a Twitter-Bot to do that.

    • Thanks for the comment Terry. It's certainly an interesting one. I know from using eCoBoT back in the day that it would sometimes appear convincing for brief conversations but would come out with some strange responses the longer it went on. It would 'probably' be easier to automate a conversation via Twitter than it would in a blog (for instance). Not to say that's ideal of course, merely that it's probably possible.

  3. The large user base of social media allows you to network your business for wide In fact there are few better tools for networking. A simple search can help you discover the pages related to your business or the industry you are operating further more you can link your own profile to those of your business and customers. You have the chance to interact with your customers and associates through one avenue with marketing.

  4. There are plenty of bots that are used to tweet messages, not so sure that replies that are actually worth anything can be done by a bot though, simply automated stuff that probably isn’t relevant to what the person tweeted.

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