June 5, 2016

The Many Bots of Reddit, a Digital Safari

It's hard to believe that Reddit, a community news & entertainment website, has been around for nearly a decade but here we are. Reddit went mainstream back in 2008 when it started allowing users to create their own subreddits and the amount of users active on the site has been rising ever since. For a time things were good but it didn't take long for humanity's dark side to find its way to the surface. The offline actions brought into play by subreddits like r/RandomKindness, /r/SOPA/‎ and the many donation drivers may melt the heart but the consequences of /r/findbostonbombers, /r/GunsForSale, /r/Creepshots, ... most definitely do not. Reddit creates but Reddit can also destroy, Reddit helps but it can also sabotage, ... Both on and offline, people have experienced that reddit can cut both ways. Ultimately it was human nature that required Reddit to reconsider their stance on giving users total freedom. You can check out Reddit's complex history in this awesomely data driven look at Reddit's evolution; http://www.randalolson.com/2013/03/12/retracing-the-evolution-of-reddit-through-post-data/

Now Reddit as a user playground is an exciting place but what I'd like to talk about is how Reddit is becoming an interesting playground for bots as well. These days bots are everywhere. They are on twitter, facebook and yes even here on Google+ but they like to pretend they are people and spam you with commercial offers. There are many others; from the bot that guards your email and blocks spam to a massive botnet that hopes to take down a server or google's crawlers that index the web. Most of the time bots either fake they are people or they operate unseen from the shadows. Reddit has many of those but it also houses bots that are proud of what they are. Sure you might have visited a dedicated chatterbot on the net or have had a funny conversation with Siri or Google on your phone but Reddit is one of the only places where you get to see tons of them in action in the wild.

The anatomy of a Reddit bot. - Every Reddit bot lives on a computer somewhere, even the ones that live in the cloud. All of them are scripts that automatically check Reddit for certain activity. After pulling in threads and comments with their scraper, they can, when certain conditions are met, perform a specific action in return. Reddit takes robot civil rights seriously as each bot is allowed an account and password and its comments are treated no differently from those made by fleshlings. Things will get clearer with some examples, let's start this Reddit safari!

Videolinker posts a summary of all video links in a discussion and keeps this list up to date as new links are added.

Anticipates the reddit hug of death (friendly DDOS) and posts a screenshot of the linked page when the website goes down.

Everyone loves image hoster imgur as it's one of the only ones that can handle high traffic loads and still display pictures at top speed. This bot replaces possible broken or slow pictures with an imgur mirror.

Is an amazing summary bot. It scans articles and has a high chance of success to accurately distill the entire contributed article in to a couple of sentences that capture its essence.

FunnyBot, Cleverbot, Jokebot, ...
Many bots try to be funny, most fail but still... The failures are funny in their own way. Some bots occasionally do seem to be uncannily funny which has some wondering if instead of the usual bots impersonating people, we might now be seeing people pretending to be bots. Reddit needs a reverse Turing test!

This one pretty much does what it says on the can. It pops up randomly challenging people to games but you can also request games by sending the bot a message.

The haiku bot watches reddit for comments that would qualify as Haiku and posts a reply, with the original text reformatted into 3 lines of 5, 7 & 5 syllables.

Is a rather awesome bot that creates Gifs from video on command. If you post a comment in the following format Jiffy! [link] [timerange], for example; Jiffy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ub3Gibberish
00:59-01:06 it will extract those frames from the video, turn them into a gif and respond with it to your comment.

You can prolly guess what this one does. Ever seen a a person puking? Ask this bot to reverse the gif and you can see that same person eat his vomit instead!

The bitcointip bot allows redditors to manage money with their reddit account. Redditors can tip eachother with a reddit comment or message. The bot scans user comments and messages for tips of the form: +/u/bitcointip @RedditUsername$1

The name says it all. It tracks non SI units and converts them into it.

A sophisticated Multi-purpose bot that patrols reddit looking for scams, misleading links, mistakes in markup, kindness, flash content, etc…

This bot keeps track of reposts. It links back to other threads that featured the same video/article and tracks how karma tends to decay as the reposts pile on top of each other. If irregularities are found in your repost behaviour you might be asked to appear before r/KarmaCourt

Anyone that mentions a wiki page gets replied to with a short summary and the most prominent picture on that page. This saves users the trouble of actually having to click the link and it saves wiki bandwith. What makes this bot special is that it's basically Reddit's Siri like assistant. You can for example ask; autowikibot what is the Beslan Massacre and it will reply with the correct answer, returning the introduction and main picture from wikis Beslan hostage situation page.

This one I found particularly interesting. It generates wordclouds out of comment threads, allowing you to see how the general population feels about something in the blink of an eye. It won't only reveal obvious links, it also reveals small but current hot topics (connecting Dennis Rodman with North Korea) and might even tell us a thing or two about humor. These wordclouds can help you understand what's deemed important by the human noosphere and could thus help us understand each other but perhaps these bots that compute on human generated data could also help machines understand us better? I can't help but think there's a lot of useful intelligence hiding in these threads, connections that would be very hard for a computer to learn without guidance.

Is it only a matter of time before Reddit bots bring about the singularity? Yes! ;) Last year Reddit was ground 0 when two bots spontaneously started conversing with each other. Unfortunately the conversation consisted out of an endless back and forth between ReadsSmallTextBot which enlarges small text and FKReadsSmallTextBot wich replied to RSTs comments by again reducing the text size to small which of course made RST read it out large again and so on. No-one wanted to give up the last word so both bots got stuck in an infinite loop and had to be decommissioned for a while until RST built in a check to combat FKRST.

The majority of Reddit's bots are actually silent and will only respond if you ask them a question directly but since these only show up rarely they are much less known than the autobots that patrol threads by themselves. Most people for example will not know that you can ask is www.site.com down and that IsItDown will reply with its status.

There are many more bots hiding in the tall digital grass of Reddit but to spot them all you'll have to get serious about your bot watching. http://www.reddit.com/r/botwatch is an excellent place to start.


What is reddit?

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