Requiem for a Twitter Bot

On the evening of December 24th, shortly after tweeting for the 500,000th time, @for_a_dollar retired from Twitter. After launching on 24 September 2009, the bot responded to all sorts of people who mentioned 'Robocop'.

Although it is easy to treat @for_a_dollar as a tongue-in-cheek project, it was always intended as a specific statement about the nature of online conversation – mainly that quality discussion is lacking. As I wrote in response to some criticism of @for_a_dollar, "99% of the content on Twitter is total garbage." I was being pretty harsh, but there's also some truth to that statement, especially now that Twitter is marketing themselves as the premier online destination to participate in your favorite television and media events. There's still value in the remaining 1%, but a huge majority of tweets are not very compelling at this point.

It's easy to forget that for the first couple years of Twitter, there was a public timeline of everyone's tweets. You could find interesting people, jump into conversations, and see what was going on. Twitter has removed that feature, probably out of necessity since I imagine it wouldn't scale at all, but when you see what it has been replaced with – a list of celebrities to follow, and curated trending topics, it's easy to imagine a decline in the quality of content on Twitter.

Anyway, at a certain point, sometime when the tweet count was over 400k, I decided that once the bot sent the 500,000th tweet, I would shut it down. I had two main reasons. First, I think that any statement being made by running the bot is pretty complete at this point. Since launching, @for_a_dollar has mercilessly responded to anyone mentioning Robocop for with the utterly senseless reply "I'll buy that for a dollar." Keeping the bot alive still has a certain value, but I also feel like the law of diminishing returns is more applicable with every tweet.

Second, the remake of Robocop is coming out in a month or two. It sounds like the satire and social commentary that made the original movie (while admittedly quote imperfect) compelling has been removed, leaving behind a fairly generic action flick. I don't have a lot of interest in helping to generate any buzz around that when the movie is released, nor do I want to deal with the logistics of maintaining the bot and my other bots while all sorts of people are tweeting from the movie theater.

I've requested a copy of @for_a_dollar's Twitter archive, and if/when I receive it (it's been a couple days), I might make something out of it that I will post online. But for now, the project is done.

Anyway, so long Bixby, it was nice knowing you.

Filed under: Twitter