Twitter for the original twitterers

This is the 250th post on Thought Box! Congratulations and long live this blog!

Why is it that Twitter has a bird logo, and that a disproportionate number of its users (over 500 million) are humans?

A few years ago, the Latvia-based IR Magazine’s staff was asking the same question. But instead of just wondering about it, they took a giant step further and got their hands dirty to fix this terrible injustice. Before the year was out, they aimed to put a bird on Twitter.

Their device linking twitterers to Twitter was absolutely ingenious: a keyboard with food on top. In perhaps the only time that unsalted fat and computers ever came together, they put these fat pieces on a rather inexpensive keyboard, and placed the keyboard in the small village of Sarnate, located on the west coast of Latvia. This account was then connected to Twitter @ir_zilite. For extra measure, the team even set up a live web-cam feed of the birds, punching out strings of random characters as they pecked at the fat.

Pieces of unsalted fat are attached to select keys via a screw. The screw also improves key sensitivity, allowing lighter birds to “type” with greater ease.

Why fat? This project was set up in the winter-time, and in Latvia, this can mean temperatures dropping to 20 degrees C below zero. The fat treats thus help the birds cope with the extreme temperatures, while giving us humans interesting feedback about their behavior when confronted with a keyboard. It’s like killing two birds on one stone, except no birds are being killed.

The results

A quick glance at the tweets from @ir_zilite shows completely nonsensical chains of letters, numbers, and symbols typed out by the birds. Of course, these tweets are made by the repetitive motion of birds pecking at the fat on top of the keyboard.

Since March 17, the project has stopped. Perhaps the project was discontinued or just stopped because the snow started thawing. This project was indeed one small step for bird, one giant leap for birdkind!

(Note: If you would like to watch the birds tweeting in action, there is a hotel in the village not far from the keyboard).


Website (English) (Latvian)

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