This is the story of how I tricked the marketing team of Wolfram Alpha back in 2009, more specifically the social media group that was in charge of a campaign called Holiday Tweet-a-Day. The idea there was that at a random time during the day, these guys would post a tweet, which had to be retweeted as fast as possible and the first person to do this would win something. So I tried a couple times, this was a boring and tedious process and the only time that I got really really close to do this was when I saw the tweet on my phone and immediately tried to re-tweet it, but I couldn’t, because I was not fast enough using my touchscreen.
So I got tired of this specially because it was a really tedious and boring process, but I got to a point where it almost felt like a challenge, luckily for me, earlier that year I had taken Stanford’s CS193P class online, in this course you learn how to use some of the key Frameworks in iOS to create usable mobile apps. Through this course you also learn how to create a bare-bones twitter client, which was able to tweet, read tweets and a few other things. So I decided to write a small program to pull down all the data from the guys at wolfram and re-tweet as soon as it could.
The program is not even 150 lines, since I had no desire to make it clean nor pretty it didn’t take me long to write it (perhaps 30 mins or 20 mins). In short this program would pull down @Wolphram_Alpha's twitter timeline, and check if there was a new tweet that could be re-tweeted, if it found a new tweet it would immediately create an post a new tweet from one of my two Twitter accounts.
So I started the program checked on it for about 5 mins and then left my computer, I think I had dinner with my family then when I went back to my computer, the logs showed that it had posted something already. First thing that crossed my mind was “I probably screwed up and this program is not working correctly”, so I decided to check what happened and I realized that it had indeed found a new tweet and successfully re-tweeted it. A few minutes later I received a direct message from one of the guys of Wolfram Alpha.
They kindly sent me a Wolfram Alpha spikey and a Wolfram Alpha shirt. I was super happy and exceedingly excited but not because of the gifts themselves. The reason why I was so joyful was the fact that I was able to effectively automate a process that some could argue did not need to be automated. At this point I was finishing my second year at engineering school, so this was one of my first few approaches where I was able to see myself crafting a solution that immediately had a personal benefit.
Just in case you are wondering, this is the tweet that made me a winner that day:
— Yoshiki (@yoshikiv)
And if you are curious about the program, I have uploaded it to GitHub and you can find it here.