Everybody has their limit, and I’ve just about hit mine with Twitter. It’s too empowering to the bad people, too unkind to the good people, and, overall, is exhausting. But I did make friends there, and I do want to leave something good behind for them. That’s why I made Bargainest Books. Bargainest Books is a Twitter bot that will operate autonomously in my stead, generating fake book catalogue entries four times a day. I made it because I could.
If you’ve spent time on Twitter, you’ve probably seen Twitter bots. They’re allowed (within certain parameters), and consist of pictures or text that some human has coded to post at regular intervals. You might think that sort of thing is exclusively the province of top-tier weirdos like Neil Cicierega, but I’m here to tell you it’s not so. I made BB with Cheap Bots Done Quick. The name is slightly misleading; it’s actually free, and is as fast as you are.
Cheap Bots Done Quick runs Tracery, a very simple coding language that, effectively, lets you construct the most complicated Mad Libs your brain can conceive. I started simple, by building a bot that generates random weapon concepts for the game Team Fortress 2. My creation was @tf2weps, and it produces weapon ideas like this:
The Emotional Imbroglio
Level 5 Knife
Crits on lungshot
-5% damage penalty
— TF2 Weapon Ideas (@tf2weps) July 31, 2018
In Tracery, you generate sets of variables, and then call them when needed. So the default template was “The [adjective] [noun], level [X] [weapon], [perk], [downside], #TF2.”
I set up @tf2weps in a few hours in June 2016, and then mostly forgot about it. Occasionally, I’d log back in to add more variables, but the basic template didn’t change. In the back of my mind, however, I wondered if I could construct something more complicated. I kept coming back to the idea of book catalogues. I love book catalogues. I’m currently on the mailing list for the Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company. They send me catalogues, I fill out the order form and mail it back with a check. It’s wild.
The catalogues themselves look like this:
Again, there’s clearly a structure to be followed. Could I build a bot that would generate random summaries for novels? That’s when I’ve spent the last three weeks finding out. Using the original code from @tf2weps, comma-separated value lists (of everything from foods to moods) from Darius Kazemi’s Corpora project, and data scraped the hard way from Wikipedia and run through a CSV formatter, I built a bargain books catalogue that never ends. Presenting: Bargainest Books.
The Probational Intuition, by Z. Sierra Oliveira. Compassionate Ben Calderón just rode into town, and he's lookin' for the Boombox of Lyonesse. Can burned-out lion tamer Breanna stop him? 607 pages, Lourenço & Sons. $21.95.
— Bargainest Books (@bargainestbooks) August 19, 2018
The Gibraltarian Radiance, by G. Nancy Alvarado. Leroy is a disciple of Hera and a de facto psychiatrist. Now, he faces his greatest test: fighting an opossum. 197 pages, Young & Díaz. Shopworn. $20.95.
— Bargainest Books (@bargainestbooks) August 17, 2018
Sherrif of the Beer Store, by Sergio Piotrowski. Breanna Tkachuk and her friend Lowell ran afoul of God. Now their only hope is China. 412 pages, Rosario & Co. PRICE REDUCED to $68.95.
— Bargainest Books (@bargainestbooks) August 16, 2018
I turned it fully on a couple days ago; it will now post at regular scheduled times. If you scroll through older entries, you’ll see they were posted irregularly. Cheap Bots Done Quick lets you manually turn the crank and see what your code produces. In the processes of checking for errors, I posted some of the more interesting results for posterity.
I’ve filled BB chock full of handcrafted plot structures and baby names from the Social Security website. My goal was to build something that could evoke the potential hinted at in the one-sentence plot summaries of real book catalogues. I’ll probably tweak it on and off for awhile, but I think I’ve succeeded.
Bargainest Books is autonomous. It cleared my skin, harvested my crops, did my homework. Most importantly, it can be a nice, quiet voice of reason that can feel no pain from trolls or haters. Twitter has become too dangerous for actual humans to use.