UnseenPlacesUSA Bot


This project started out as a sketch about funny place names. This class presents itself as a language manipulation class and it seemed like there was some fun to be had tweeting about Boring Oregon, Loveladies New Jersey, or Husband Pennsylvania. But, that idea never really gelled. There is a much more interesting conceptual relationship between tweeting and location that can be explored. Tweeting a location brings something that is far away closer, the same way that the land art movement of the 1960s brought earth into galleries. I started thinking about what kinds of places I don’t think about and why. That reminded me of Taryn Simon’s photo work An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar in which she reveals unusual and unconsidered locations in the US. Using Taryn’s work as inspiration I decided to create a bot that would tweet locations, not just of individual unseen locations, but of systems of unseen locations. Instead of seeing one nuclear waste storage facility, this bot can eventually show you all nuclear waste storage locations. And, it can give you a link so you can see where in the country it actually is, what is around it, or how close it is to your home.  

The bot code itself is pretty basic. All it does is turn some JSON data into a simple descriptive sentence, a link, and upload an image. The challenging part of this project is the data. This bot really needs a large dataset to work from. After all, it’s performing a dataset more than it’s doing anything else. Another data challenge is that unseen places don’t necessarily have good documentation. Most of my time went into data munging, and even then I only ended up with about 60 locations. Right now this bot is definitely a proof of concept, not something ready to go out on Twitter and run on its own for a while. If I am going to build a version of this that lasts I am going to need to get a lot better at gathering and cleaning data.

Things I would like to add to this bot are:

  1. Grabbing its own satellite images from the Google Maps API. Right now it’s working with an image set I created.
  2. Make the link in the tweet a satellite style link rather than a map style link.
  3. Way more data.
  4. @replies. You should be able to have the bot tell you an unseen location.
  5. A way for people to suggest unseen locations.

Questions I have for the class are:

  1. Do you feel like you need more information about the location? Or, are they compelling enough on their own?
  2. What unseen locations should I add?