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Build a literature bot in three steps

These instructions tell you how to set up a literature bot that automatically posts papers on particular topics to Bluesky. If you use them to build a bot, please post a note in the "Show and tell" of the discussions, and I'll start a csv file with the links.

A key pre-requisite is that you'll need an account with Microsoft Power Automate. Many people have that for free through an institutional Office365 subscription. To see if you have a subscription, go to: https://make.powerautomate.com/, and try to log in. Microsoft Power Automate is a horrendous way to build anything, but the massive advantage for literature bots is that if you have a subscription, you get free server time. So once your literature bot is running, you're all done.

We'll use the building of the phypapers bot on Bluesky as an example.

Literature bots can be a useful way to keep up with the latest research. Casey Bergman started it all with a Drosophila literature bot called flypapers back when Twitter existed. There are now hundreds similar ones, many built with the instructions below and many of which can be found on this list: https://twitter.com/caseybergman/lists/literaturebots/members. The detailed instructions here were originally inspired by Casey Bergman's blog post.

This repo has some very detailed instructions to make your own literature bot.

This is a new set of instructions which I've cleaned up substantially, and streamlined for BlueSky. If you're looking for the old instructions, which had notes for Twitter, Tumblr, you can find them here

What the literature bot does

I built the literature bot in Microsoft Power Automate. Here's roughly what it does:

  1. Run once every 24 hours
  2. Check a lof of RSS feeds for papers that have come out in the last 24 hours
  3. Apply search terms where necessary (i.e. where the RSS contains papers that are not pre-searched, see below)
  4. Remove duplicate papers
  5. Post the papers to your Bluesky account over a 23 hour period, evenly spaced

The three basic steps to setting it up

1. Set up a Bluesky account

Obviously you need an account to post to. This part gets you set up on Bluesky, whether you have an existing personal account or not.

  1. If you don't have a Bluesky account: Go to https://bsky.app/, and click 'Sign Up'
  2. If you do have a Bluesky account, log in then go to Settings and click Add Account
  3. Leave the hosting provider as Bluesky Social
  4. Fill out your details to set up your new account:
  5. Decide on a handle. Following flypapers' lead, I suggest a short prefix followed immediately by papers, e.g. flypapers, phypapers. This means we all know it when we see a literature bot.
  6. Click on your new profile, go to Edit Profile
    • Username: I suggest making this prefix_papers e.g. fly_papers or phy_papers. As above, this helps everyone know what's a literature bot
    • Description: pretty obvious, but it's always nice to know the human who runs it, so good to put your name there if you want to. It would be great if you could also put a link to these instructions on your literature bot - that way anyone who sees yours can also make their own. On my profile I just wrote: "Make your own literature bot with these instructions: https://github.com/roblanf/phypapers"
  7. Go to Settings and scroll down to App Passwords and set one up (this is something which allows another service to post to Bluesky on your behalf)

2. Set up your RSS feeds

Literature bots use RSS feeds to post papers. You can use any RSS feed you like, but for the purposes of this tutorial I'll show you how to do the three big ones for what I do: pubmed, arXiv, and bioRxiv. The general rule though is that you should establish RSS feeds that cover as much of the literature as you possibly can for whatever your literature bot is for.

2.1 Pubmed RSS feeds

  1. Go here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/
  2. Type in your favourite search terms remembering that wildcards are useful (e.g. phylogen* will match anything starting with phylogen, and logical operators can be really good, e.g. you can have phylogen* OR raxml OR splitstree.
  3. Click search
  4. Click the Create RSS link just below the search box
  5. Name is something sensible
  6. Set Number of items to be displayed to 100
  7. Click Create RSS
  8. Record the RSS URL somewhere

Create as many RSS feeds as you like from PubMed, and note them down. Why would you create more than one? Because each feed is limited to retreiving 100 papers, so on the off chance that there's a bumper day for your subject (like a special issue coming out), you might miss papers by having one general feed. For phypapers I went totally overboard and made the following list of RSS feeds:

  1. phylogenetics[Title]
  2. phylogenomics[Title]
  3. phylogenomic[Title]
  4. phylogenetic[Title]
  5. phylogenetics[TitleAbstract]
  6. phylogenomics[TitleAbstract]
  7. phylogenomic analysis[TitleAbstract]
  8. phylogenetic analysis[TitleAbstract]
  9. ancestral recombination graph[TitleAbstract]

If you click on them you can see what each one entails (the search terms are near the top). And note that it doesn't matter that these will pick up a lot of duplicate papers.

2.2 arXiv preprints

arXiv has preprints for many subjects, so it's worth considering. Setting up the RSS feed is trivial. All you need to do is edit this URL to include your search term:

http://export.arxiv.org/api/query?search_query=all:[YOURSEARCHTERMHERE]&start=0&max_results=100&sortBy=lastUpdatedDate&sortOrder=descending

For phypapers I used two RSS feeds. I include the text of the links below so you can see how they're built

  1. phylogen*
    • https://export.arxiv.org/api/query?search_query=all:phylogen*&start=0&max_results=100&sortBy=lastUpdatedDate&sortOrder=descending
  2. "ancestral recombination graph"
    • https://export.arxiv.org/api/query?search_query=all:%22ancestral%20recombination%20graph%22&start=0&max_results=100&sortBy=lastUpdatedDate&sortOrder=descending

2.3 RSS feeds which need searching

bioRxiv and EcoEvoRxiv are great for biology preprints. I don't know of a way to get RSS feed with search terms from them though. However, we can get ALL the preprints in an RSS, and filter them using search terms. For bioRxiv you have two options. You can do the simple thing and just get the single RSS feed with all recent paper:

http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=all

OR... you can go overboard like me and get each subject category indpendently. This is probably overkill, but since bioRxiv returns only the last 30 papers, it will help avoid missing anything. Here's the full list in the format you'll need for Microsoft Flow.

[
  "https://ecoevorxiv.org/rss/preprints/",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=animal_behavior",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=biochemistry",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=bioinformatics",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=biophysics",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=cancer_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=cell_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=developmental_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=ecology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=evolutionary_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=genetics",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=genomics",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=immunology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=microbiology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=molecular_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=neuroscience",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=paleontology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=pathology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=pharmacology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=physiology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=plant_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=scientific_communication_and_education",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=synthetic_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=systems_biology",
  "http://connect.biorxiv.org/biorxiv_xml.php?subject=zoology"
]

Once you've decided on your list of RSS feeds, you then need some search terms - these will be used to find papers with any matches in the title or abstract. For phypapers I use these:

[
  "phylogenetic",
  "phylogenomic",
  "ancestral recombination graph"
]

3. Set up Power Automate

3.1 Set up your variables

First we have to upload the template, which will do all the posting for you:

  1. Download the zip file in this repo called bluesky_literature_bot.zip, but don't unzip it.
  2. Log into https://make.powerautomate.com/
  3. On the left hand navigation bar, click "My Flows"
  4. Up the top, click 'Import', then 'Import Package (Legacy)'
  5. Upload the bluesky_literature_bot.zip file, then click 'Create as new', then the blue 'Save' button

Next you just have to edit a few of the variables at the top of the template:

  1. Click My Flows
  2. Click bluesky_literature_bot, then Edit at the top left
  3. Click the purple variable RssFeedsThatNeedKeywordSearch, and edit it to include any RSS feeds which are not pre-searched (by default it has all of bioRxiv and EcoEvoRxiv, but you can change this to anything). Note the format is JSON, as in step 2.3 above.
  4. Click the purple OtherRssFeeds, and add in all your PubMed and arXiv RSS feeds. I've left a couple in there so you can see the format, but you will need to delete these and replace them (unless you want to mostly duplicate phypapers).
  5. Click on the purple Keywords variable, and put in your search terms. As before, I've left mine there so you can see them. (Hint, don't include TOO many - Microsoft Power Automate is terrifyingly slow, I'd say 10 maximum)
  6. Click on the purple BlueskyUsername variable and change the bottom part from YOUR_USERNAME.bsky.social to your username, e.g. phypapers.bsky.social is phypapers'.
  7. Click on the purple BlueskyAPIPassword and change the dummy password xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx to yours from step 1 above.
  8. Click Save at the top.
  9. Click the <- back arrow at the top left
  10. Click Turn on at the top.

3.2 Test it

It's a good idea to do a dry run first. To do that, just hit the Run button at the top. This will run your literature bot, and as long as it found at least one paper matching your search terms from the last 24 hours, you'll be able to see it posted to your Bluesky account.

If nothing posts, either follow up the errors in Microsoft Flow, or if it says it 'Succeeded' in the 28-day-run-history, then check your RSS feeds. The chances are that there is nothing from the last 24 hours to post.

3.3 Set the trigger time

Finally, if you want you can set the time that the search happens each day. By default it starts at 10AM AEST, but to change it just:

  1. Click Edit
  2. Click the blue Recurrence variable
  3. Change the Time zone and At These Hours to what you want. But ONLY use one hour. The system is built to run once every 24 hours, and if you do more than that you'll just get a lot of duplicates.

4. Tweak, revise, repeat

That's it. My best advice now is to make sure you follow and check your own feed regularly. If it seems like it's posting rubbish, go tweak the RSS feeds. Leave it runnning for a week or two before telling too many people, so that you can see that it works like you want.

And of course, if you find any mistakes or omissions in this document, raise an issue on the github page and I'll fix it.

5. Let me know about your literature bot

I'd love to know if you built a literature bot with these instructions. If you did, please let me know via "Show and tell" of the discussions