If you have a Facebook account, you may have seen your friends post a link to a website called “What-Would-I-Say?”
The site, created by Princeton University graduate students the weekend of November 9 and 10, turned into a smash hit, clocking more than a million hits in its first three days of existence and probably generating many times more posts on the social networking site.
Here’s how it works: if you visit www.whatwouldisay.com while logged into Facebook, there is a button to create a custom status that is supposedly something you would say. The site uses a mathematical algorithm called a Markov chain to randomly combine parts of your previous status updates, photo captions, and comments to create a new sentence, signed [your name]Bot.
The results are amusing gibberish, but with a personal touch. The Facebook page of one of the founders yielded the following:
“Why you should never touch raw chicken with electricity.” -DanielBot
You can also use popular public Facebook pages as raw material.
“We can’t do it.” — BarackObamaBot
“These ubiquitous creatures are recruited using scholarships.” — PrincetonUniversityBot
There seems to be something compelling about the idea of randomly generated or machine-written text. A site called “That can be my next Tweet” does almost the same thing with Twitter posts.
The success of the program has left its creators reeling. Pawel Przytycki, Ugne klibaite, Vicky Yao, Edward Young, Bolong Cheng, Daniel Jiang, and Alex Furger wrote the program during the seasonal “hackathon.” (A Princeton Hack is a gathering of programmers who “hack” together an application in a short period of time. It has nothing to do with computer security breaches.)
“We all wanted to take a little break from research, and this seemed like a fun event to participate in,” the team said via E-mail.
However, they got more than they bargained for starting on Monday, November 11, when the site was launched and traffic exploded. They have had to pay hefty server fees to keep the status-bot going. “The app has been costing us enough to worry some poor graduate students, but we have found a way to use only one ad and not really compromise our site to cover this,” they wrote, declining to talk specific dollar amounts.
The team was inspired by previous message board bots and thought that using Facebook to make one would be fun because it has such a rich and interesting collection of messages for each user.
“The text is compelling because it’s composed of things you’ve said and presumably care about. Also, it’s pretty funny!” they wrote.
Facebook also provided an extra incentive in the form of hoodies, computer bags and other promotional gear. So far, the swag is the only tangible benefit the team has received from its hit website launch. And the team has no immediate schemes for capitalizing on their popularity.
“We hope not to lose money, and that’s about as far as we’ve thought it through,” they wrote.