Problem: It’s hard to keep up with announcements from dozens of state and city agencies. E-mail is not cutting it, even when I can manage to get added to a spox’ e-mail list to find out about meeting/hearings being scheduled, agendas being set, etc.
Solution: I watch Twitter all day anyway, so why not build a little tiny robot to watch those public websites and make a tweet when it finds something interesting?
That’s all a Twitter bot is, it’s something set up to automatically do what I would do anyway: check public websites. A bot might not use code… say, you might set IFTTT.com to watch the DOJ’s press release RSS feed and tweet every time the word “Georgia” comes up in a press release.
Or you might use a little coding, a Python script maybe.
@GaPolBot uses both.
I’m trying a new function with it: tweet bills as the Governor announces signing them. The annual legislative session just ended, so those signings will be happening over the next 40 days.
Technically, there are limits:
- The signing data is pulled from a website that is probably slower than reality but I *hope* is at least the same speed as the RSS feed.
- A bot can’t tweet every single signing individually because bots are only allowed to tweet like 4 or 5 times an hour (lest they become spammy.) Therefore, at the end, when 20 or 30 announcements are made at once, the bills will be shortened & squished into a single tweet
- Even so, there may be so many announcements at once that GaPolBot will choke. It will definitely choke IFTTT. So, we’ll see.
If you wish to see the code, voila.
Takeaway: Bots can help you as a reporter. Though there’s no substitute for actually being there.