You may think that Twitter is just good for following celebrities and swapping tweets with friends. But the social network is capable of a lot more. Specialized services have tweaked it to turn ordinary Twitter accounts into robots that can carry out helpful tasks.
Twitter bots, as they're called, can help manage your calendar, tweet reminders, and even warn you--via a tweet--of an earthquake. Here's a look at some of the most interesting and useful Twitter bots.
Tweet Your Calendar
Even with the newest iPhone or Android device, setting up calendar events on the go can be annoying. For a simple way to record new appointments while traveling, use Twitter Cal; it lets you set a Google Calendar appointment with a simple tweet. After tying Twitter Cal in to your Google Calendar account, you can tweet @GCal a direct message like gcal meeting with Anne tomorrow 10am to set up new appointments for yourself.
Let Your Plant Join Twitter
Botanicalls is a fun project that turns any ordinary house plant into a twitter user. Just stick the $100 Botanicalls kit in the soil next to your favorite plant and set up a twitter account for it. It will tweet you when its soil is too dry and will even thank you for watering it.
Grab Spotify Playlists on Twitter
If you regularly use the streaming music service Spotify on your mobile phone, you may be interested in Spotibot's Twitter account. The Spotibot site will generate a Spotify playlist of similar artists (aomething that Spotify itself isn't especially helpful about providing) when you tell it you love a particular band--the Rolling Stones, for instance. The @Spotibot account can perform the same function for you when you're on the road. Just tweet @spotibot similar too [your favorite band], and Spotibot will tweet you a playlist link in just seconds.
Set a Twitter Timer
If you need to set a timer--to remind yourself to make a call, for instance--but you aren't wearing a watch, just use the Timer Twitter account instead. Follow @Timer on Twitter and then send Timer a direct message like 60 call home. An hour later, Timer will send you a direct message reminding you to make that call.
Make a Twitter "Friend"
James M. Titus may seem like a fairly unremarkable Twitter user with a respectable number of followers and a penchant for asking dopey questions like "What's the worst advice you've ever taken?" and "What was your first car?" In reality, Titus is the winner of a contest by the Web Ecology Project to create the most realistic Twitter bot in history. "Titus" managed to fool hundreds of people into following him back on Twitter during the contest and even managed to engage some users in surprisingly long conversations consisting of dozens of messages. While Titus itself is now maintained just for fun, the work behind it may serve as a basis for creating more-engaging bots for Twitter in the future.
Get Earthquake Warning Tweets
Many lives were saved during Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March of this year by the country's earthquake warning system, which sent messages to mobile phones in time for people to prepare for the temblor. Though the United States doesn't have that kind of system in place yet, you can mimic the functionality of the Japanese emergency notification system with Earthquake Bots, a series of Twitter feeds that automatically tweet earthquakes in areas such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Tweet For the Home Team
If you're a sports fan, you'll recognize the practical utility of RUWT. RUWT, which playfully stands for Are You Watching This, is a service designed to let you know about sports events you don't want to miss. When a pitcher has a potential no-hitter going, or your favorite football team's game just went into overtime, RUWT sends you a tweet to make sure that you catch the crucial action while it's still happening.
Tweet Your To-Do List
Fans of to-do list service Remember the Milk know that one of the best things about it is how easily it allows you to add and check off items from almost any device, thanks to its myriad mobile apps and great mobile website. It's so easy to use, in fact, that you can add items via Twitter. Just tie your Twitter and Remember the Milk accounts together by using this tutorial; then start tweeting that you'll need to pick up some more ice cream, the moment you think of it.
Track a Package on Twitter
Let's say that you've just ordered a new outfit or a great new novel online, and you don't want to miss your package when it arrives. You'll probably want to bookmark Trackthis to ensure that you'll know the second your package arrives. The Trackthis service will send you a notification via Twitter every time your package gets scanned in at any location. All you have to do is provide your tracking information and Twitter name, and Trackthis will automatically keep you informed as your package is shipped off, arrives in your town, and goes out for delivery.
Make Your Own Twitter Bot
If you're not satisfied by what any of these bots can do, try Twitter 411, a service that lets you create your own custom Twitter bot. The Twitter 411 site contains a directory of public apps that users have already created to handle tasks ranging from checking out the day's weather in London, to getting a quick map to a friend's house, to doing some quick calculations via Twitter. Since all of these apps are available for public use, you can even use a little ingenuity to tie them together to do almost anything through Twitter.