Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Decentralizing Parkour Jam Planning using Twitter

One of the major problems with parkour communities right now is jam planning and coordination. Currently, Rochester uses Facebook to plan jams. Honestly I wish it hadn't turned out that way. The only way to announce your jam was to post on the discussion boards (which no one checks with any real frequency in ANY Facebook group) or to send out a message. Only administrators of the group can send out messages though, so unless I made everyone an administrator, only a few select people could effectively plan jams.

I recognized how detrimental this was to the community and I made a push to start using the American Parkour forums. As it stands, almost all typical parkour communities use forums to plan their jams, and it works pretty well. Forums allow anyone to post a jam, they facilitate easy discussion and planning of the jam, and it leaves a public record of past events. The problem is people had no incentive to check APK because any event we planned was blasted to them through Facebook. Additionally, it's difficult to reach critical mass on a forum (as defined by the amount of activity occurring to keep it interesting enough for people to keep coming back and generating more activity). So short of the leaders of the community abandoning Facebook entirely. I had to find a way to solve this problem in order for the community to be sustainable. How could we decentralize jam planning without destroying the community?

TwitterThen the idea. Twitter. It all fell into place, and the solution is SO much cooler than you think it is.

A quick rundown on Twitter lingo in case you aren't familiar. A Twitter update is called a tweet. You can do something called "retweeting" which is basically quoting someone. It's typically used as a way of saying "hey. This guy is pretty cool, you (your followers) should hear what he has to say." Then there are hashtags, which is Twitters keyword system. You can end a tweet with #08DebateTopics, and then whenever someone who was interested in 2008 election debate topics searched for that hashtag, tweets about energy policy, Iraq, and the economy would all come up.

So here is how my solution works:

  • Step 1: start a hashtag, #parkourjam. If I want to go train, I write a tweet like "Tuesday. Five PM. In front of the library. #parkourjam"
  • Step 2: Run a Twitter search for the hashtag, and then save the RSS feed for that search.
  • Step 3: write a perl script to scrape that RSS feed and republish it. (this is necessary because Twitter uses nofollow links, which will screw up the next step.)
  • Step 4: run your new RSS feed through Yahoo Pipes. Apply some clever filters and regular expressions to strip out the data you want, clean it up a bit, and the republish that as a new RSS feed.
  • Step 5: run that RSS feed through twitterfeed.com. This will check for updates every 30 minutes, then will actually update a Twitter account with the new information.
So what we just did is essentially create a retweet bot. It will automatically search Twitter for new tweets using the #parkourjam hashtag, do a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo back-end magic, then republish any tweet it finds under its own account.

This is obviously useful because now everyone doesn't have to follow everyone else, people only have to follow a single bot.

Cool right? Yeah. But we're not done yet.

Twitter is super phone friendly. You can register your phone with your account, and then you can actually text updates to Twitter. So I can be on campus, find out class is canceled, then without having to go home I can tell people to meet me outside the library in ten minutes to train.

Sweet, right? Sure, but then everyone else still has to be at their computer to see my update. And this is when the project REALLY gets cool.

Remember when I said that Twitter is super phone friendly? Yeah. SUPER phone friendly. You can actually set Twitter up to send you a text message whenever specific people update their Twitter accounts.

Yeah. So suddenly, I can tell everyone who follows this retweet bot that I'm outside the library and I want to train. Where ever they are.

So if your Economics 101 professor is droning on and on about the laws of supply and demand and it's an amazing day outside... You know there is someone who wants to go train. Or if your home alone watching television, or if you dropped the kids off at a birthday party and have a few hours to kill. Suddenly the entire community is at your fingertips. Anyone can plan a jam- either days in advance or minutes in advance.

I feel like this is what Twitter is going to be used for more and more in the future. With a bit of creativity, out of the box thinking, and knowing what tools are out there and what they're capable of, you can decentralize planning while centralizing community.

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