They’ve got a Twitter bot for that

November 22nd, 2010 by Sandra Barron

Twitter love is showing no signs of abating in Japan. It’s not just real live people “muttering” their 140-character thoughts, though. As much as a quarter of traffic on the microblogging site is thought to come from automated accounts, or “bots.” Japanese Twitter bots are slightly different than English-language bots. While many of the most popular bots in English do something – remind you of your to-do list, say, or help you calculate a tip – a large portion of the most popular bots in Japan spout quotes from celebrities and anime programs.

Welcome your new bot friends

Meet your new bot friends

And while Japanese engineers are working hard to create real-world robots that will fool us into thinking they’re real, some of the artificial intelligence bots on Twitter have already succeeded. Last year, a Japanese blogger wrote about being surprised to discover that some of his Twitter friends were actually bots. There are scads of AI bots like Robot Secretary. Included in this group of advanced bots is the popular Shuumai, which “learns” speech by reading what people write and then tries to regurgitate it appropriately.

Who’s who

According to a Goo ranking, the celebrity bot that people most want to follow is Matsuko Deluxe. There are at least three bots tweeting quotes by the zaftig cross-dressing TV personality and columnist, with a total of over 100,000 followers.  The quotes are a bit barbed, whether they’re directed at other TV personalities (“The women on Nippon TV are mostly no good“), at him/herself (“I don’t even know if I’m funny“; “I think I should try a little harder“) or at no one in particular (“Basically, I don’t like you.”)

Two ranks down and a world away is Becky, a singer/comedian/actress who at one point  in her career had officially (er, that’s “officially”) changed her name to include emoticons. Her smiling headshot, backed with Brady Bunch blue, replies to keywords, like “good night,” with upbeat messages peppered with music notes and stars. The person responsible for this bot is also the brains behind behind one that impersonates Softbank’s CEO Masayoshi Son.

Also in the top 10 are the famous words of Beat Takeshi (“I want skill more than money, sensibility more than power.”) and the Seattle Mariners Ichiro Suzuki (“What motivates me is that I like baseball.”)

The Peter Drucker bot translates the American management expert’s wisdom into Japanese tweets. A novel about a high school girls’ baseball team studying his techniques made him a buzzword in Japan this year, perhaps an unexpected posthumous honor.

Information, please

Japan also has plenty of automatic info bots. Jihou announces the time, every hour on the hour. It’s like the English Big Ben bots, but with less bong. Trash bots remind you when your garbage collection day is.

One bot tweets  the Nikkei average during market hours and another posts the yen exchange rate against other major currencies. Both are readable without knowing Japanese.

There are a few bots that announce earthquakes in Japan, though impromptu “Quake!” tweets from regular people are often faster.

There are some 90 separate bots that tweet train-service advisories for individual lines all over the country. The overall Osaka and Tokyo areas  have an aggregated one each, too. Detailed messages about line trouble are in Japanese, though they’re all tagged in English with #TrainDelay. Could forwarding one of these messages to your boss replace handing in those slips they pass out at the station?

Amuse me

There are absolutely countless anime and manga bots spitting out lines from favorite series. Goo ranked the anime bots people say they’d most like to follow. “Slam Dunk,” “Urusei Yatsura,” “Oishinbo” and “Ranma 1/2″ took the top spots. The Snoopy bot translates quotes from “Peanuts” quotes into Japanese.

For a touch of the morbid, there are at least two bots that tweet obituaries and death  noticesMeinichi lists famous people who died that day.

A jazz bot posts links to YouTube videos of famous international jazz recordings and to Amazon links to buy the albums. Postrock does the same for electronica.

When commentators try to explain why over 16 million people in Japan have tried Twitter, they often point to Japan’s long tradition of pithy poetry – haiku is just one of many forms. Countless bots tweet the original micropoets of ancient Japan. Haiku master Basho alone has at least half a dozen avatars tweeting his Edo Period verse. Modern writers such as Haruki Murakami also get the quote-bot treatment.

Just looking for some simple fun? One Twitter bot alerts you in English when you hit a round number of followers or tweets. The zawa bots tweet only the onomotopeic sound of a noisy room. Kiri-tori and its clones do nothing but draw a dotted line across followers’ timelines. Sound silly? Take it up with its 78,000 followers. And if none of these does it for you, you can always go to Twitter bot generator and make one of your own.

Have any favorite bots that we missed? (Note: Bots who recommend themselves will not be tolerated.)

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3 Responses

  1. While it’s not just for this country, @twisst will send you an @ reply around 4 or 5pm to tell you that the international space station will be in the sky above you shortly. Works especially well in Japan as that’s a good time of day if you want to see stuff in the sky.

  2. Space Station bot! How cool! Thanks.

  3. Very interesting story. I didn’t even know the existence of bots. (I should check my followers or friends…) Thanks!

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