Tweeture is a “social network Tamagotchi” that communicates with its users by sending and receiving Twitter messages. Combining AI-controlled script, digital technologies and social networking platforms, he is designed to take people’s interest away from their screens to befriend a lovable, yet grumpy robot. The Tweeture was designed for the ‘campus festival’ environment of South by South West in Austin Texas. Its aim was to create social interaction, taking on a life of its own as the network of festival goers took responsibility for it, passing it from one ‘carer’ to another and sharing their experiences.
COOKING TIME: 4 weeks
When you’re working with someone who’s gifted technically they’re always going to want to do something way more complex than you need to do – always bring it down to ‘what’s the simplest way to do this’ and that will still be challenging.
Also, treble their time estimate and add contingency on that!
Tweeture was commissioned by iShed and supported by Arts Council England.
Think about the idea of putting your voice into something; discuss having huge megaphones in the street or ways you could write something and it comes out over the other side of the room, or even hijacking someone’s phone.
Eventually come up with the great idea of Tweeture: a novel object that challenges people to look after it properly and gain points for interacting with it via Twitter.
Think about trying to get people to make assumptions about the social media prowess of other people in the conference space – if they hand Tweeture to someone who is very active in social media then they get higher points. (The idea of judgement and gaining points in this way didn’t work in the end, but it solidified the idea that the handover was really important.)
Use your Pervasive Media Studio connections for recommendations for someone to work on the electronics. This leads you to Tim Redfern, an artist who creates interactive work and has a high level of technical expertise. Commission him to construct the innards for Tweeture.
Ask Rob Clayburn, a trusted and reliable programmer with extensive knowledge of developing Slingshot’s existing message technology, to build the server that can handle all of Tweeture’s communications.
Bring in scriptwriter Hazel Grian to help with the character design of the robot (the way he looks and feels.
Invite Green Ginger and model maker Roseanne Wakely to create a design around the existing electronics and project specifications.
Ask Roseanne to include design elements such as asymmetry in the face, to emphasise the existing project specifications that Tweeture is alien but cute, friendly but unsettling at the same time.
After making a prototype, sculpt Tweeture from blue foam and rivet the arms to the plastic skull, making them impossible to pull off.
End up with a finished design prototype, an object that just pushes the boundaries of ideas around ‘normal’ appearance to draw people’s attention. The idea being, once at SXSW, people will be intrigued and ask about Tweeture. Then, in this hyper-wired space you will have an excuse for face-to-face conversations explaining how Tweeture runs on Twitter and uses GPS – you will have to explain these social media platforms and how you communicate with it.
Commission Hazel Grian to write Tweeture’s back-story – where the character came from and reason for visiting the USA. Write all of Tweeture’s tweets in advance, except for the tweets that will be generated by GPS to automatically say where he has been taken.
When writing, consider all the possibilities coming from the other sensors in Tweeture; if it was being moved or had been left motionless for a period, if he had been dropped or shaken, it would respond with different emotional tweets referring to this. As well as this, Tweeture displays coloured lights on his antennae to show what mood he was in depending on what his friend had done with him.
Write the tweets to read as if Tweeture was actually responding live to his new friend.
By giving Tweeture a proper character and attitude, you can challenge the users’ expectations of a robotic and automised language. This depth of character and story along with real humour, both scripted and improvised, help to make Tweeture really feel alive to the user.
These tweets worked alongside the idea that the clock was ticking; as Tweeture got bored, the user will accrue less points in proportion to how far through the session they are. Once reaching this optimum point the user will hand over Tweeture to someone else and the game would begin again.
Once finished, take the Tweeture to SXSW and let him loose on the public.
Find that although the gamey element of it fell away a bit, as people couldn’t always read the fact they were losing points, everything else we hoped for came true: people treated him as a living being and took care of him. To add to this, people used Tweeture as an opportunity to socialise with other people and take notice of their surroundings.
Come away satisfied that Tweeture had encouraged these real world communications and had all kinds of people talking to each other face to face. Even though Tweeture was in essence the child of the type of technologies – using Twitter, GPS and SMS – that are seen as causing semi-antisocial behaviour in these kind of spaces, but actually inverting it.
Go on to win the mobile communications category at the 2011 Media and Innovation Awards.
It really captured people’s imagination.Because it was a small, campus based-festival, word started to get around and people got to know about it, knew its name. People got competitive about looking after it and taking it places.
It was mad how random strangers said “Oh, there’s tweeture”, how this thing from Bristol got known.
It really got around, at the end of one night it met Mr Twitter himself in a bar. Simon was sitting with tweeture on his lap when we saw Evan [Williams, co-founder of Twitter] and told Simon he couldn’t miss the opportunity to go over and get a photo of the two of them together.