Swotter

A new kind of talking book.

About Swotter

Booktwo, says the mission statement, exists to explore the intersections of literature and technology. Having recently been caught up in the swirl around Twitter, I’ve been bending my mind around ways to bring something bookish to the twittering masses. This is it.

Swotter reads books to Twitter, and via Twitter to the world. You can listen to Swotter via the web, via Instant Messenger, or via SMS messenger on your mobile phone. Soon, there will probably be even more options.

The booktwo Swotter

Booktwo is currently using Swotter to read James Joyce’s Ulysses to the world. Aside from it being one of our favourite books, it also contains enough strangeness to make anyone coming across it at random pay attention. Possibly.

You can see how it’s getting on at http://twitter.com/booktwo. If you’d like to subscribe, get a twitter account if you don’t have one, and make friends with booktwo.

Ulysses, in the Gutenberg plain text edition, has 24765 lines. Reading one every fifteen minutes, it is going to take 257 days (about eight months) to read Ulysses to Twitter. Swotter started reading on the 28th of February, 2007, so should finish around the middle of November.

Some thoughts

One of the main inspirations behind Swotter was “baudri-r”, an online project by the artist Annabel Frearson. Frearson typed the text of Jean Baudrillard’s In The Shadow Of The Silent Majorities into internet chat rooms.

baudri-r.com is no longer online [Update 9/10/2009: it's back online elsewhere], but you can read Stewart Home’s interview with Annabel Frearson here. (It’s also discussed in his forthcoming novel, Memphis Underground, which I am – full disclosure – the publisher of).

Running over a period of several months, Swotter will test the permanence of the electronic medium against that of the traditional book. It also poses several challenges: to what extent can we fragment (or microchunk, in the latest parlance) literature before it becomes incoherent? How many media can literature be forced into – if, indeed, there is any limit?

It’s a simple concept, with many ramifications. I look forward to seeing the discussion (if there is any…) and the other uses to which Swotter can be put (likewise).

Running Swotter

Swotter is a simple php script. In fact, it is my first piece of php code, so it’s pretty rough – but that also implies that anyone can get it going. Any tips on tidying it up would be much appreciated. There’s a little zip for downloading:

[Note: There's a counter file in there, although you can create this yourself pretty easily though - again, a better coder probably wouldn't need it.]

Put these two files in a directory on your server, together with the file you want to read. Remember, the maximum length of a twitter message is 140 characters, so each line, which Swotter reads in turn, should be no more than this. Make the changes indicated in swotter.php, and schedule a cron job to hit swotter.php as often as you want a line read.

Thanks to Paul Stamatiou for the php-to-twitter code, and Vision Internet for their usual high-quality support.