The Googlematic AIMBOT
July 24, 2001 5:29 AM   Subscribe

The Googlematic AIMBOT will only work for those of you with Instant Messager installed, of course. A profoundly useful little widget knocked together by Matt Webb allows you to do very quick and easy Google 'I feel lucky' searches from the comfort of your own Buddy list. Launched yesterday, I think it's a hell of a lot more useful than either SmarterChild or GooglyMinotaur as well as rather better conversation than any of the AIM chatbots I've found to date...
posted by barbelith (52 comments total)
Yes. That is vastly superior to SmarterChild, and GooglyMinotaur was just dumb. This is very cool.
posted by matt8313 at 6:00 AM on July 24, 2001

Very cool. I'm just happy that searching "Peter Pan" correctly returns Peter Pan's Home Page.
posted by Hankins at 6:15 AM on July 24, 2001

Yeah, it is great, but as Matt says, it will only last until the server falls down, so the joy will only last a little :(
posted by kchristidis at 6:41 AM on July 24, 2001

Heck, I can do a lightening Google search from the comfort of my browser (Opera 5.12) which bypasses the Google search page. And it's not an "I Feel Lucky" search.
posted by caraig at 7:09 AM on July 24, 2001

Or you can just install the google toolbar in your browser and get full search results. It also maintains a drop down list of your recent searches so that you can pull them up immediately.

It also allows you to search usenet and has a ton of other useful features.

(Jeez - I sound like one of those stealth product placement people)
posted by Irontom at 7:35 AM on July 24, 2001

How do people actually create these AIM Bots?
posted by Mark at 7:56 AM on July 24, 2001

some of the non-aol aim clients have scripting capability, so they hook in the logic with the scripting. I knew a kid who wrote an AIM client a long time ago that I think let you use GUILE to do everything. He made it spit back whatever you typed through the swedish cheferizer when he was away.

I think AOLiza uses applescript, regular AIM, and a perl program.
posted by jeb at 8:16 AM on July 24, 2001

Googly Minatour and Smarter Child don't provide stimulating conversation? I hadn't noticed...
posted by andrewraff at 8:19 AM on July 24, 2001

For kicks, I like chatting with bizzarokiehl.
posted by muckster at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2001

All I need now is a 'bot to search Amazon and my life will be complete.
posted by scottandrew at 8:41 AM on July 24, 2001

Actually, once you find the modules and protocols you need to program the AIM service, it's not too hard. A guy I work with programmed a cool little bot that would respond to very basic questions. We work for a law firm and get the same questions over and over again. So, we figured have a way for the clients (especially new clients) to connect to this bot and ask it general questions. We never did really put it into effect, just another cool Perl project. He had it on sourceforge. One day he gets an e-mail with a cease and desist letter attached. hahahaha, just because we named it something with AIM in it, we had to take it off. So, we found out from people on the net that all he had to do was rename it and bang, they let us go. Unbelievable. So, all-in-all it was a cool little Perl project, just probably will never get to really use it.
posted by the_0ne at 8:49 AM on July 24, 2001

Googlematic is built with the magic of Perl, Net::AOLIM, and Google's xml interface. There's almost nothing there -- just a small amount of glue code, and an almost impossible tiny amount of logic. That's what I like about the net: you don't need to write anything to create anything, you just have to join stuff together.

The Google tool bar is excellent (I use it myself), but there's something about IM that makes it more immediate, more - um - instant. Well.

kchristidis: The server and script both seem to be holding up pretty well. I'll try and keep the 'bot running for as long as I remember.

Oh, and the Amazon search 'bot is a cool idea. Anybody got any others? I'm looking for a new project...
posted by mattw at 8:58 AM on July 24, 2001

All I need now is a 'bot to search Amazon and my life will be complete.

Maybe I'll get my wish sooner than I thought.
posted by scottandrew at 9:28 AM on July 24, 2001

For me, the best thing about the AIMbot is that it doesn't occupy a browser window. You can do it on the side and only open a new window when you actually FIND the thing you want to click on. Plus of course it doesn't have to load ANY images or HTML, so it's that much faster...
posted by barbelith at 9:40 AM on July 24, 2001

I just returned from a meeting with the folks at Activebuddy. Since this thread is mildly on-topic, I'll post a few notes here.

I should point out on Activebuddy's behalf that GooglyMinotaur and SmarterChild are mere not artificial intelligence devices; they are "parlor tricks," to use their words. Simple demonstrations of the technology, not the uttermost form of it. People seem to be under the impression that they are encountering a better Eliza, something that interacts exactly like a human in a normal conversation. That is not the point. The point is merely information retrieval, ideally in a natural language form. Also, SmarterChild is constantly updated with new code. So if you tried it even a couple weeks back and found it not to your liking, check it out again. Using it makes it better (though there are no automatic heuristics in the current version, I was told).

The problem with this is that people, knowing there is a machine and not a person on the other end, tend to use stilted language, hypercorrecting or dumbing down their syntax into what they imagine is computer-speak. While this kind of human behavior is being taken into account in programming the buddies, so that even dumb human questions will return decent information, you might try just typing a normal question.

I was told what we all know from looking at our referrer logs: Internet users are frighteningly predictable. Raise your hand if one of the first words you typed into SmarterChild was "fuck." I thought so.

Some other things that you might not know: Activebuddies can be used on practically *all* chat platforms and protocols, if that function is turned on. I believe SmarterChild is available on most of them now.

On the server side, Activebuddies can interface with databases and Perl scripts. In other words, the text results of any Perl script you have can be returned to any user via an Activebuddy. The way I see it, in a large corporate environment with a large knowledgebase (or even somebody like Adobe with a huge tech support area), a relatively simple amount of programming will make those databases available in chat form. Not to mention directory assistance or anything that the French Minitel has been doing for years.

The Domain Definition Language, or BuddyScript, used to program buddies is amazingly simple, kind of PHP-ish and SQL-ish and I don't know what all. Anyone that uses serious Applescript or Perl could learn it in a day. Of course, you need a buddy server to work with...

My overall opinion of this technology is a big "Yes." Text lives. Text is an answer. It works as well or better, and usually more efficiently, than a strictly graphic-based information environment. The continuing strenght and even resurgence of the text-based interface (Linux, BSD, Mac OS X/Darwin, 99 kinds of chat, the continuing boom of email) is a nice refutation to the Flashification of the Internet, and not only that, it helps reduce the dominance of the http protocol. We tend to forget about all those other mysterious ports. Think about the sites that have dropped the www from their host names: what they're telling you is that there is only one protocol to connect to their site with. No, no, nothing else. For them, and so many other people, the Internet equals the World Wide Web and vice versa. The new text-based interfaces (and the gopher nostalgia we've reading about lately) are a long-delayed reaction, and a healthy one. You *can* use the Internet without a browser. In that context, the browser wars mean nothing.

My final thought: the killer app for chat will be a Lynx-like web browsing interface on AIM.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:30 AM on July 24, 2001

My final thought: the killer app for chat will be a Lynx-like web browsing interface on AIM.

Could you elaborate a little on that, Mo? I'm having a hard time picturing exactly what you mean.

Perhaps it's akin to what I was thinking about the other day, using AIM as a lightweight command line interface to the Web (or email or gopher or...). You want the results of a Google search? Typing:

google "search terms" n=10

And you get the top 10 results back. The following would send you those top 10 terms to a friend:

google n=10

This would be good for things like news and stock stuff:

news cat=topstories n=10
stocks ibm,msft,mmm,dji

You could also post to your Web site via Blogger or send email:

blogger id=453632 post="hi there, this is a post."
email to="" from="" subject="bling bling" body="this is an email"

The syntax would have to be worked out, but I could see this being useful for a limited set of tasks, but tasks that people use the Internet for most often. In my mind, any simple task that someone currently does via email or on the Web via a text interface could be considered for this type of system.

It's a bit of a pain in the ass because you have to remember all that syntax, but there would be help files and you could set preferences with it too:

email setpref

And most of Unix functions this way: vi, Emacs, Apache, majordomo, the command line, etc., so it's not really anything new.

But, would non-power users actually use it? Is it compelling enough for people to abandon their browser to use IM tools like this? Is the security there? Or am I travelling down the wrong path here?
posted by jkottke at 12:46 PM on July 24, 2001

Of course, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! are just going to build a GUI interface on top of their IM clients and call it something else anyway.
posted by jkottke at 12:52 PM on July 24, 2001


i think that what you suggest sounds really interesting. posting to blogger might be kind of difficult via AIM the way you suggest; it might make more sense to arrange things like how fileservers do on irc. that is, you type in your username, you type in your password, and then you're considered "logged in" and you can add things that way. which if you ask me sounds kind of convenient, and might appeal to both power users and newbies. but it would be up to evan to do something like that, or give a developer the kind of information and access to his database setup for anything like that to be implemented.

what i'm personally interested in doing is further practicing with python and try to write an AIM bot that would be eliza like. i'm not sure how difficult that would be, or if it would even be possible. but i have a scholarly interest in language design and artificial intelligence (graduated cs major), so who knows?
posted by moz at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2001

But, would non-power users actually use it?

No way. This is far, far too complex for the average user. It would be useful for me though ;-)
posted by ecvgi at 1:43 PM on July 24, 2001

I don't think it would fly on a desktop, but it sounds perfect for handheld devices. Instead of messing with shifting standards, just funnel all the content you want through the IM service you already have.
posted by skyline at 2:03 PM on July 24, 2001

In reading up on Activebuddy, I found that supposedly it is now used in current corporate environments to send email. I'm not sure how this works (having not really looked too much at the developer's documentation), but it is happening.

As far as Lynx-like web browsing (not something, as far as I know, being done by the Activebuddy people), I'm looking at something simple: typing in an URL, hitting return, getting back the page of text belonging to that URL, with each link marked with a numer [1] or something like that. Typing in the 1 and hitting send, then results in that page being returned.

I mean, how different is the AIM chat window (not the protocols or anything else, just the physical display space) from a terminal window? Not very.

As far as your samples, Jason, the special formatting wouldn't be necessary (theoretically) as long as the order of the pieces was right. Remember, most of these bots are long strings of text-parsing logic. Therefore, you could just type
Message, oh sweet message.

So the logic code could be written to decide that whenever it encounters an email address (or a series of addresses) alone on a single line, and whenever it encounters the user's own nickname alone on a single line, then everything in between must be intended for an email message, and since the nickname is the close of the message, then a return after the nickname equals the send command.

No special user-end formatting required, though you'd want to build some fail-safes in there.

As far as defining stocks and news specifications for retrieval, as I understand it with Activebuddy, this information can be (or will be able to be) tied to the username (though perhaps not in the two floor models on display), so that you can specify preferences and the server will remember them and you the next time you log in. So after defining your stocks preferences, any time you enter

show me my stocks

it will return your usual IBM, MSFT, APPL, etc.

The Blogger posts and everything you describe are possible, at least using Activebuddy, since Activebuddy works with Apache and mod_perl, and I'm of the school that says Perl can do anything. (The Activebuddy server runs exclusively on Linux, by the way).

For a small example, you can configure the buddies to go get (much like the fopen command in PHP) information from a web page. Let's say that there's a Federal government page that posts the pollen reports each day, always within the same nested tables. Well, you (again, theoretically, since all I know is what I've read and been told), write the Activebuddy to go to a specific URL, look for a specific string of HTML, identify that as the starting point, and then return all data from there to a second specific, ending, string of HTML.

I should add that this coding is not done on the user end, but on the developer end. Though it would be cool if you could write live scripts in a chat session with an Activebuddy...

Finally, regarding the question of power users versus Joe Internet. I dunno. I see this as picking up where WAP failed (and is still flailing). My new Nokia phone with Voicestream has the capability of interfacing with AIM via SMS messaging. It's a little slow and you've got to format messages correctly, but it does work (and costs me a nickel for every message sent or received). I popped SmarterChild in there for the hell of it. I was reminded of sitting in a bar in Paris watching two deaf guys sitting next to each other on bar stools SMS messaging each other at about 20 words a minute, fingers flying. It was faster than hand-signing for them. The SMS messaging, like the hand-signing, was just another gradation of the colorwheel of interpersonal communication that includes letters, email, phone calls, meaningful looks and conversation.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:34 PM on July 24, 2001

Actually the Blogger one would be fairly simple, since Blogger already has an XML interface, so it would be similar to Goolematic. That would be kind of cool if you could chat to the BloggerBot and another person at the same time, so you'd have an automatic way to log your AIM sessions in a blog. Is it possible to chat with two people at once on AIM in that way? I guess you wouldn't be chatting with the BloggerBot, just posting. And I guess you may end up with a one-sided conversation. Ok, enough rambling...still this is all very interesting.
posted by megnut at 2:35 PM on July 24, 2001

subject="bling bling"
heh heh
posted by modofo at 2:40 PM on July 24, 2001

XML interface to Blogger eh? I've got a dirty xmlrpc gateway to post using Blogger, but an official one would be much nicer.

I've seen some interesting bots on IRC that listen in, understand simple commands, and can post to a weblog. Chump Bot is one. And from what I've seen of the AIM Perl module, it shouldn't be too difficult to do the same in a chatroom.

And as far as lightweight IM apps go, I think people would use them -- it's just a matter of getting the UI correct. How about a bot that acted like a text adventure, or a mobile phone hierarchic menu? People are quite happy using interfaces like this. But I think the real reason apps like this will take off is that it's really easy to write and share them -- the same reason that single-trick web apps get around more than the equivalent desktop ones.
posted by mattw at 3:01 PM on July 24, 2001

AliceBot is an open-source chatbot that, in my limited experience, makes for a slightly less incomprehensible robot friend than ActiveBuddy's offerings. They have a AIM version (AliceBotNet), but she's never online.

I should add that Googlematic appears to be AFK now, as well...
posted by D at 3:39 PM on July 24, 2001

This actually sounds like the kind of thing that Jabber was hyped up to be: a versatile XML-driven messaging framework that could also serve as a development platform for online services.

Except that ActiveBuddy actually works ;) But that doesn't mean there isn't theoretical stuff that can't be, um, taken into consideration from the Jabber project.
posted by holgate at 3:47 PM on July 24, 2001

Hm. Googlematic is b0rked something chronic. I'll do a bit of rewriting over the next day or two. Hey, it's all experience innit.
posted by mattw at 3:48 PM on July 24, 2001

An interesting side note to this discussion is what the 'father of email' is now working on. The other night after he won a lifetime achievement award at the Webbys, Ray Tomlinson and I ended up having a conversation about what he is currently working on. He shared that he is working on building a bot engine. Bots that organize your life. Need a plane ticket, bus ride, train, flowers? The bot would go and pull down the appropriate product for your needs. Make a calendar change and the bots go out and shuffle the appropriate tickets or goods to suit your new schedule.

Bots have far more interesting implications far beyond command line driven search and post capabilities. My guess is we aren't too far away from a day when 'relevance' is king. How does a single Google search relate to what I am working on? What if I let Google know what places in the world I have visited, told them my field of study in college, let them know my job title? Maybe this could be done with today's IM clients but I have a suspicion it will take a bit more work in getting folks to pony up their personal information as well as building smarter clients and bots, or maybe Ray will beat us to the punch.
posted by jasonshellen at 3:52 PM on July 24, 2001

I should also point to SURFRAW, which turns lots of webbish things into UNIX commands. For most of my searching, I just type "google [foobar]" into an xterm.

My guess is we aren't too far away from a day when 'relevance' is king. How does a single Google search relate to what I am working on?

I've said it before, and I've said it again: it's all very well talking about constructing the Semantic Web, but the Pragmatic Web is where it's at. Which is why I remain interested in the intersection of Bayesian algorithms and XML: immanent relevance derived from a priori structures of relevance. Is it possible to turn the academic work that created the Remembrance Agent -- which is astonishingly good at bubbling forth relevant emails -- into something that has a more general use?

But you have to play it a bit loose with the semantics -- in linguistic terms, let the langue emerge from the parole -- otherwise you end up suffering the Curse of SGML: lots of discrete DTDs that work well for discrete tasks, but nothing close to intertwingularity.
posted by holgate at 4:03 PM on July 24, 2001

Basta. Link.
posted by holgate at 4:12 PM on July 24, 2001

The link on the Front PAge doesn't work in my IE 5.0. Can someone help me out here?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:25 PM on July 24, 2001

he is working on building a bot engine

I dunno...we've been promised bots (little machines that go out and do things for people with their limited involvement) probably even before I was born, but I don't see many of them out there yet. Sure, I get lists of trips in my inbox every week leaving from SFO, but I still need a travel agent or a site like Expedia to book a trip. In the same way, Amazon does a really good job in recommending me things that I like, but I'm not ready to let it purchase every "you will give this 5 stars" book that it runs across for me.

There's just too much up-front information needed. People want to use things now, not wait until after they've entered information into forms for 15 minutes (sure, you can do this once, but each task you need to do is going to need a little different bit of information than all the others). More interesting at this point to give people dumber bots that are really good at transactions and shaking hands, and let the people do most of the thinking (the Googlematic bot buddylet is an example of this).

Bots like that just seem like more sci-fi than reality; things that it seems like we should have but just aren't practical right now (like vaccuum cleaners that clean by themselves).
posted by jkottke at 4:39 PM on July 24, 2001

Paris, it's a link to a new AIM message and requires that you're on a windows machine running the latest AOL instant messenger (AIM) client.
posted by mathowie at 5:24 PM on July 24, 2001

It works with Mac IE 5, too. But there's nothing to see at present.

This is a bit OT, but I'm interested in voice interfaces to these bots, as they will open a whole new door for videogame designers (and others, I suppose). Suddenly, conversation with an in-game AI character could be much more compelling than the awkward menu interface that is used now. This would allow games to use bots as narrative elements, possibly allowing designers to create games that concentrate on human interaction instead of gunplay. (Simulated human interaction, that is.)
posted by D at 6:25 PM on July 24, 2001

This is semi-OT: does anyone know of any attempts by AOL, etc. to prevent 3rd parties from using IM in this way? Seems inevitable (unless AOL already charges them?)
posted by ParisParamus at 6:31 PM on July 24, 2001

I'm with Jason, in that I don't think bots are ever going to be reasonably good at actually doing complicated tasks for me. I don't want a bot buying my plane ticket, and to be honest, I don't need one. I can click three buttons myself.

However, once I have done that and I get my receipt back, I'd sure like to just paste it into a chat window to my "agent" and have it added to my calendar. Agent tools are great for dealing with your own information. Email, PDA stuff -- if my agent has free reign over my data, it can become really useful.

I'm going to whip something like that up for HappyNetBox.
posted by benbrown at 8:21 PM on July 24, 2001

Which will be released when exactly, Ben??? :-)
posted by fooljay at 8:58 PM on July 24, 2001

Well, crud. Looks like Googlematic is no more:

"Your client does not have permission to get URL /xml from this server. See the Terms of Service posted on"

It's interesting that you can't take the results from Google and reformat them or do any automated querying of their site, although they basically do the same things to everyone else.
posted by jkottke at 10:21 PM on July 24, 2001

benbrown: true, I wouldn't want bots buying things for me. But I wouldn't want most humans doing that either. In the short term, though, I can see them being handy as search agents, and maybe helping out with reminders, etc. Maybe doing the cooking, cleaning, taxes, and so on...

Anyone remember the original Chatbot? Or Omnibot?
posted by D at 12:26 AM on July 25, 2001

benbrown: MS Hailstorm is meant to do something similar, with IM and calender integration and whatever (see the first screenshot). But I think their massive integration is a huge mistake, I'd much prefer a series of bots I could chain together, swappable -- so that if my calender wanted to tell me something, it'd send a message to my notifation bot, and that bot would have all the smarts to know where to IM me, SMS me, or send a Missing Presumed Etc message to local radio.

Which makes me think... The massive advantage of central net apps is that it's write once deploy many times. So it wouldn't be that bad to write small scripts that can pull out the dates, etc, from common pages that would need to be turned into calender events. Right click on a page and select 'send to calender' where the sendee is a webapp, or bot, or whatever? Could be cool.

The basic point of all this is that it's not big tech to write a bot that does X. It's not much harder than knowing a bit of Perl and using the CGI module to put together a webpage, for example (okay, that's not easy, but it's within the grasp of a lot of people). This is a Good Thing.

But as far as Googlematic goes... I'm feeling pretty gutted. It was useful. I've mailed them, because it was violating Terms of Service, not to mention using their name, and we'll just have to see. In the meantime, I need to write something else...
posted by mattw at 1:02 AM on July 25, 2001

How does a single Google search relate to what I am working on? What if I let Google know what places in the world I have visited, told them my field of study in college, let them know my job title? Maybe this could be done with today's IM clients but I have a suspicion it will take a bit more work in getting folks to pony up their personal information as well as building smarter clients and bots, or maybe Ray will beat us to the punch.

i think this idea really has potential. i like this type of functionality in Amazon (though it still needs refining). maybe there could be a different kind of Google search: the normal, straightforward, as now one and the one that takes account of all previous searches by your login and additional info that you put in. it might return some interesting directions you didn't come up with on your own.
posted by Sean Meade at 8:26 AM on July 25, 2001

Just so that the Internet historians get their facts right when they are writing about this stuff, Deepleap was basically going to do what Microsoft is trying to do with Hailstorm more than a year before. I imagine people were thinking about this stuff before Deepleap came along, but I'd rather they took the credit than Microsoft.

(And actually, this thread about Deepleap and Hailstorm from earlier this year is an interesting read, particularly beginning with this comment by Anil.)
posted by jkottke at 9:22 AM on July 25, 2001

One thing that's interesting to me about this whole discussion is that, user experience-wise, these IM buddies are basically the same as wireless apps. The size of my IM window is about the same as my Palm screen. And once you have a working bot in IM, how hard would it be to glom on a voice interface so you could use it on the phone? It seems to me that having a "smart agent" I could talk to from my computer, my phone, and my palm, all interchangeably, would be one hell of a killer app.
posted by fraying at 1:28 PM on July 25, 2001

piece of piss, fraying: there are already a couple of interesting proofs of concept that use SMS.
posted by holgate at 1:49 PM on July 25, 2001

I just want to be out at a cafe somewhere and be able to call a number and say, "What was I supposed to do today?" and find out.

I mean, I have that now, but sometimes my mom's not home.

posted by fraying at 1:59 PM on July 25, 2001

So as to prove Mo not crazy, and to illustrate such to jkottke, I give you the three hour experiment: metalynxbot!

I thought it was a nutty idea, but it's actually somewhat useful. It's sooper ultra beta, so let me know if it's down and you'd like to play with it.
posted by eamondaly at 1:59 PM on July 25, 2001

in case anyone is interested in how AIM works under the hood, check this out.
posted by moz at 3:02 PM on July 25, 2001

I wrote an AIM bot a while ago that did the same Google stuff (but didn't use the XML interface) as well as interfaced with my site to do a few things for users. It's really tough though, once I deployed it, it just started conking out a lot and logging itself off. AOL just keeps the reins too tight on IM and has a lot of things they do to stop you from doing too much with it, and they don't let you know what they are.

If AOL opened it up some more, let people do cool things without blocking them, and changed some of the size limits on messages, IM would for sure wind up being huger than it even is today. But I'm not crossing my fingers.
posted by beefula at 3:03 PM on July 25, 2001

Eamon, that's the coolest thing ever.
posted by mathowie at 3:05 PM on July 25, 2001

Don't look at me! It was Mo Nickels' idea.
posted by eamondaly at 3:13 PM on July 25, 2001

If AOL opened it up some more, let people do cool things without blocking them, and changed some of the size limits on messages, IM would for sure wind up being huger than it even is today.

Perhaps there's hope. Of course, you always have to take these types of pronouncements with a big grain of salt.

Also, Eamon and Mo, that's beautiful. Right now, I'm reading the news on Yahoo! with Trillian via AIM. I've seen a glimpse of the future and it's wonderful.

Melodramatically yours,
posted by jkottke at 3:56 PM on July 25, 2001

Its done.

Weblogging via Jabber (a IM Client)

More links and info at:
posted by charlesw at 3:50 AM on August 23, 2001

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