Programming in Twitter

The sheer haiku-like brevity of a tweet is a large part of its appeal. When you tweet, you don’t need a lot of preamble or set-up time to get your message out — you just get right to your thought. For better or worse, a tweet is a pure a spontaneous expression of now.

So suppose we knew that a bot were listening to our tweet, and that this bot could do things that bots do — post a link, put an event up on our calendar, bring up a map of our whereabouts on our friend’s screen, buy something on eBay at our pre-arranged signal. All of those many things that we’d like computer software to do for us.

I can envision a kind of computer programming language specifically designed around the immediacy of 140 character messages. One thing that makes this approach to programming interesting is that it is inherently social in nature. In fact, you could tweet something that would influence the actions of my bot.

For example, if you twitter about a party on Saturday, I might already have sent a tweet to my bot telling it that party announcements from you should go onto my calendar. My bot is listening to you, under my direction.

One of the barriers to entry for learning traditional programming is the way coding fosters a particular mind-set, one that privileges building large structures. Programs tend to be long and involved, requiring serious engagement and focus to understand.

But if anything you told your computer to do had to be stated in simple declarative 140 character chunks, maybe we’d develop an entirely new way of thinking about how to order our computers about.

Maybe Twitter will turn out to be the way to universal programming literacy.