Sunday March 06, 2016

These bots tweet their own artwork

Emma Winston makes Twitter bots that tweet drawings made of unicode and emoticons.

Emma Winston makes Twitter bots that tweet drawings made of unicode and emoticons. (TheTinyGallery/Twitter)

Listen 7:25

Most Twitter feeds look the same: some text, hashtags, links, maybe an occasional GIF or a video. Even automated Twitter bots have gotten so good that sometimes you can't distinguish their tweets from those written by human users.

But if you follow one of Emma Winston's bots, a tiny forest may suddenly appear in your stream of tweets:

Or a tiny meal on a table set for two:

Emma Winston is a PhD student, musician and artist, studying at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her latest project is making Twitter bots that tweet tiny artworks made up of Unicode characters and emoji.

Making Twitter bots that generate works of art may sound like an obscure hobby, but in fact there is a large community of coders and artists united by their shared enthusiasm for art and technology. Emma admits that her tiny emoji art bots were inspired by a long line of graphic Twitter bots like Tiny Star Fields and Tiny Astronaut.

Most of Emma's bots run on Cheap Bots, Done Quick!, a simple programming language set up by game designer George Buckenham, which runs on a language called Tracery by Kate Compton. George made the script publicly available to all bot enthusiasts, which resulted in dozens of Twitter bots: some humorous, some artistic, some that generate surprisingly beautiful poetry.

For Emma, this emphasis on accessibility and collaboration is what makes the bot community so attractive. It's the antithesis of the corporate tech world, which can be cliquish and competitive. Emma describes the bot-making community more inclusive and accessible to all levels of coding skills.

Emma Winston

Emma Winston

"I wonder if maybe an interest in bot-making also has something to do with an interest in people and an interest in how people react to and interact with computers," Emma says.

Emma's next project combines two of her passions: music and bot-making. The idea is to take scores made by the Graphic Score Twitter bot and perform them in real time. And in true bot-making collaborative spirit, both musicians and coders are encouraged to contribute ideas for this performance. You can find out more about this project and check out Emma's other work on her website.