Keeping up

I kind of hate Face­book. There I said it. Now, I hate Face­book for a lot reasons: the chronic pri­vacy issues, its walled gar­den nature, the shal­low level of com­mu­ni­ca­tion it encour­ages, the fact that it’s tak­ing over the Inter­net, but one rea­son in par­tic­u­lar bugs me the most. Now, I know this makes me a rather sore sport, but I hate how Face­book turns me into the odd man out.

You remem­ber that big party back in col­lege? The one that every­one went to? Every­one but you? You remem­ber out for months after­wards every­one would laugh about some­thing that hap­pened at that party and when you would ask what was so funny every­one would just say, “You really had to be there?” Do you remem­ber that? Well, for me, Face­book is that party.

I don’t use Face­book much but everyone seems to use it as their pri­mary social out­let. This means that I’m con­stantly out of the con­ver­sa­tion. Now, nor­mally I would­n’t mind; I could skip most of the con­ver­sa­tions that take place on Face­book but when peo­ple announce their wed­dings, funer­als, birth­days, mov­ing days, new jobs, lost jobs, new kids and declos­et­ings and I’m the last to know because I haven’t checked Face­book in a week, I begin to look like a schmuck. One par­tic­u­lar thing annoys me and that is when it’s some­bod­ies birth­day, they get birth­day wishes from every sin­gle one of their friends but me because I did­n’t hap­pen to be one Face­book that day.

Now, I was think­ing, and after the headache sub­sid­ed, I decided that what would be cool would be a script which would mon­i­tor Face­book through my account and man­age all that social non­sense for me. Then I real­ized that would be hard so I set­tled for a script which would wish my friends happy birth­day on their birth­days so I don’t look like so much of a schmuck. After a few days learn­ing the Face­book API from scratch, I believe I’ve come up with a work­able solu­tion. I call it: Facebot.1 I’ve released it to the world in hopes that one day Face­book will become a com­pletely auto­mated social tool which no human has to inter­act with at all.

Face­bot is actu­ally a dead sim­ple script. The hard­est part in using it is get­ting the access token but this is thank­fully straight­for­ward. Sign up for a Facebook devel­oper account, and create a new app. Copy down the app id/api key and app secret and go to the Graph API Explorer. Click Get Access Token, check every option avail­able, click the blue Get Access Token box and the long string now in the box labeled “Ac­cess Token” is what you seek.

Invoke Face­bot with:

ruby facebot.rb -t access_token

You can put this in a cron job set to run at 4:30 every morn­ing and folks will won­der how you get up so early every day!

Of course, there is a lot of room for improve­ment. Cus­tom mes­sages per friend would be nice. Con­fig­ur­ing it to notify you when it actu­ally sends out these mes­sages so that when friends thank you for wish­ing them happy birth­day you don’t respond “When was your birth­day?” would also be a plus. Actu­al­ly, it would be nice to expand this into a full bot to man­age my online social life with­out me, only let­ting me know of the cru­cial details would also be cool, but I’ll ta­ble that as project for the future.

  1. Thanks to the makers of Koala, without which this project would have been a real chore. 

Last update: 16/09/2011

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