First Code Kitchen meetup! Making twitter bots with Tracery and CheapBotsDoneQuick.
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README.md

README.md

Twitterbots!

🎉 Here are bots that we made this meeting!

Please edit this file with your name and bot name, and submit it as a Pull Request...

  • Colin - @shallowmindsd - tweet with the hashtag #twitterspiritanimal and it will respond!
  • Kyle - @SacredGeoBot - sacred geometry generator as a Twitter bot (still working on making the generator more interesting). Code can be found here.
  • Joe - @ventcheck - this is a bot that tweets once a day with a sentence randomly generated with collective noun phrases for animals, San Diego neighborhoods, and other random words. Based on a thing I made in 2009. Source Tracery code here.
  • Your Bot Here

Sign up for a Twitter account

We need to create a new twitter account for your twitter bot!
https://twitter.com/signup

☝️ TIP: If you already have a twitter account, use Incognito or Private mode to sign up, so that you don't need to log out of Twitter.

Full Name: name of your twitterbot
Email: see tip below
Password: keep it somewhere, you'll need it again

Don't forget to click Advanced Options, and uncheck both Let others find me by my... options.

☝️ TIP: If you have a gmail account, you can add +anything to the part of the email before the @, and it will be treated like a new email address but still go to you!
Let's say that your gmail address is codekitchensd@gmail.com but you already have a twitter account associated with that address. You can sign up for your bot with codekitchensd+funnybot@gmail.com.

Give permissions to Cheap Bots Done Quick

Usually, to run a twitterbot, you'd need to run code on a server to tell your new twitter account what to post. Instead, we're using a free service from George Buckenham called Cheap Bots Done Quick, which will let you program your very own twitterbot:
http://cheapbotsdonequick.com

⚠️ Make sure that you are logged out of your personal twitter account (or in Private/Incognito mode), and logged in to your newly-created bot account.

You'll now see a window with some sample code! Let's find out what it does...

Understanding the building blocks

We'll be using a language called Tracery by Kate Compton. It's a programming language for generating stories, written in a subset of JavaScript, which is the lanugage that runs in your web browser.

ℹ️ You may see this particular formatting of code referred to as JSON, which stands for JavaScript Object Notation.

To understand it, if you're new to programming, you need to understand a few terms:

  • We're working with three data types: strings, arrays, and objects.
    • Strings are text. A string is a sequence of text characters between two quotation marks, like "Hello, I am a string." or "C0d3 k1tch3n IS M@DD Ph47 yo!!" or "boo" or "$22.50" or "🍕".
      • If you want to put a " inside a string, you'll need to escape it with a \, like so: "Where is this so-called \"sasquatch,\" Mr. Mulder?".
      • If you want to add a tab, use \t inside your string.
      • If you want to add a return/new line, use \n inside your string.
      • You can put emoji in strings! If you're on a Mac, try pressing control+command+[space bar] to pop up an emoji picker.
    • Arrays are lists. An array is a comma-separated collection of data (like strings) in between brackets [ ], like ["apples","bananas","clementines"] or ["zebras","alphabet","$14.00","Hello, Jane."].
    • Objects are groups of keys (names) and values (data or other computer code). They're written as comma-separated groups of key: value between curly braces { }, like so
{  
  "name": "Grizelda",  
  "nicknames": ["Izzy","Zelda","Lil' Griz"],  
  "favoriteAnimals": ["bats","bees","bonobos"]  
}

Tracery!

If you want to just dive in, go to this interactive tutorial and start playing!

Tracery is a way to create a grammar, a dictionary of symbols.

Symbols

A symbol is what you might know from other programming as a variable ...it's a key for a value that may change.

For example, your symbol might be animal, and when Tracery sees it in your code, you want Tracery to replace it with something from your list of animals, like aardvark,asp, or anteater. You'd do this by making a ruleset:
"animal": ["aardvark","asp","anteater"]
...and then whenever Tracery sees the word animal surrounded by # in your code,
I love the mighty #animal#.
it will fill in the blank, like mad libs:
I love the mighty aardvark. or I love the mighty asp.

{
  "animal": ["aardvark","asp","anteater"],
  "story": ["I love the mighty #animal#."]
}

Modifiers

Symbols can have modifiers, which are functions that do something to the symbol.

Modifiers are used by putting a period and then the name of the modifier after the name of the symbol, for example:
#animal.capitalizeAll# --> AARDVARK or ANTEATER

Modifiers can also be chained together, so you can change multiple aspects of a symbol at once:
#animal.capitalize.s# --> Anteaters or Asps

Tracery has several built-in modifiers:

Modifier What it does Example
.capitalize capitalizes the first letter Aardvark
.capitalizeAll Capitalizes Each Word In The Phrase Angry Aardvark
.s pluralizes the word* aardvarks
.a adds an a or an in the front an aardvark or a horse
.ed puts verb in past tense by adding -ed to the end #verb.ed# --> bounced
.replace(x,y) does a search and replace #story.replace(his,her)# --> I'm her biggest fan

(* It will try to be smart about pluralizing, too! fly becomes flies, for example.)

{
  "animal": ["aardvark","asp","anteater","fly"],
  "story": ["I love the mighty #animal.s#.", "#animal.a.capitalize# is my BFF."]
}

Nesting

You can nest symbols inside symbols, including the main symbol. This is called recursion.

On the simplest level, in the code above, you could have...

{
  "animal": ["aardvark","asp","anteater","fly"],
  "story": ["I love the mighty #animal.s#.", "#animal.a.capitalize# is my BFF."],
  "origin": ["I must say: #story#"]
}

Or you could get very convoluted, and have...

{
  "storyWithin": ["Gather round, and I'll tell ye a story! \"#story#\"","I have nothing left to say. THE END."],
  "story": ["It was a dark and stormy night, and the Captain said to his men, \"#storyWithin#\""],
  "origin": ["Okay, kids, tuck yourselves in and we'll begin: #story#"]
}

...but be sure to always have at least one option that doesn't nest when you do this (like the THE END branch above), or Tracery would keep nesting stories inside stories inside stories inside stories inside stories inside stories inside stories inside stories inside stories... infinitely!

Actions

An action lets you do things to a set of symbols before Tracery goes through and substitutes values. For example, you could set the value of several symbols at the same time. A simple example would be setting the name of a character and the character's pronouns at the same time, so that they're consistent throughout your story. Actions are powerful, and slightly confusing at first!

But wait...doesn't CheapBotsDoneQuick (as of mid-March) have a warning at the top of the page that says...

Note: currently setting variables (like part 6 here) is bugged. They will only work if not specified within their own node.

...which means that Actions don't work?

And the answer is... yes, there is that warning, and yes, Actions still appear to work.

A simple example of actions (as in Part 6 of the Tracery tutorial here) is setting pronouns so that they're consistent (e.g., "she","her","hers") throughout your story:

{
    "origin":["#[#setCharacter#]story#"],
    "setPronouns":["[cThey:they][cThem:them][cTheir:their][cTheirs:theirs]","[cThey:she][cThem:her][cTheir:her][cTheirs:hers]","[cThey:he][cThem:him][cTheir:his][cTheirs:his]","[cThey:it][cThem:it][cTheir:its][cTheirs:its]"],
    "cName":["Leslie","Avery","Pat","Methuselah"],
    "setCharacter":["[#setPronouns#][name:#cName#]"],
    "story":["#name# woke up in a strange place. #cThey.capitalize# went to #cTheir# home. The doorknob was #cTheirs#, but everything else was foreign to #cThem#."]
}

Visual Editor

If you're not too fond of typing {}s and []s and making sure that your , are in line, Kate's made a color-coded visual editor that greatly simplifies writing Tracery code.

When you're done, just click the JSON toggle button to see the Tracery code to paste into Cheap Bots Done Quick.

Using Tracery in CBDQ

Your Tracery code

The symbol that will be used as your tweet is origin.
"origin": ["#beginning# #callToAction# #climax# #fallingAction#"]
It's usually put at the beginning or the end of the Tracery object.

Cheap Bots Done Quick will give you a live preview of what your twitterbot will output. If you have an error in your code—you forgot a , or added one after the last line, or are missing a closing ], or anything—it will give you a big, shiny RED error message.

You can refresh this preview as much as you want.

Tweeting manually

If you see something in the preview that you like, you can manually tweet it.

Tweeting on a schedule

Additionally, you can schedule it to generate a tweet and post on a schedule.
It defaults to Never post a tweet as your twitterbot's account name.
You can set the twitterbot to tweet anywhere from every 10 minutes to every year.

⚠️ It goes without saying: don't change the schedule from Never and then SAVE unless you are ready for your bot to start tweeting!

If your generated tweet is longer than 140 characters, Cheap Bots Done Quick will try again (up to five times) until it creates a tweet-length bit of text.

Going further...

Looking at other people's source code

You can read the Tracery source code of other twitterbots on CheapBotsDoneQuick by going to an address like
http://cheapbotsdonequick.com/source/nameoftwitterbotgoeshere
where nameoftwitterbotgoeshere is obviously the name of the twitterbot's account.
If the author of that bot has chosen to share the source code you'll see it!
If not: 😢

For example:
http://cheapbotsdonequick.com/source/lettergamebot

Generating images

If you want to take it to the next level, you can write code to generate images with CheapBotsDoneQuick!
These images are made with Scalable Vector Graphics or SVG, which is an XML markup (text file) that describes shapes and lines, along with their positions, rotation, size, colors, shadows, etc.

SVG can be used as an image file in an <img src="something.svg"> tag—and to answer one Code Chef's question, we're not sure if the twitter API supports SVG natively, or if it takes in the SVG and autoconverts to PNG, or if CheapBotsDoneQuick converts it for you, but regardless: you can use SVG to generate an image that CBDQ will tweet.

To learn more about SVG, check out these tutorials:

For examples of SVG twitterbots, look at the source code for Soft Landscapes
http://cheapbotsdonequick.com/source/softlandscapes
or Tiny Space Adventures
http://cheapbotsdonequick.com/source/tinyadv

Responding to tweets

To reply to tweets, you'll need to run Node.js on your computer and have it interface with the Twitter API.

GitHub hosts the source code of many conversational twitterbots (Darius Kazemi's list of repos is a good place to start) if you want to look at other people's code. We've set up an advanced tutorial using Twit and Tracery in this repository, right over here:
https://github.com/codekitchensd/2016-03-24-twitterbots/tree/master/self-hosted-example

Thanks for coming! Please send us links to the twitterbots you've made!