On May 17, 2008, internet musician Brad Turcotte (@bradsucks) tweeted a funny thing. Slightly bored and struck by inspiration, I signed up for a new Twitter account (it couldn’t quite match his original post— there’s a character limit for usernames) and replied to him. I knew immediately that the userpic had to be a picture of Andy, Dominos Pizza’s short-lived bizarre mascot from the early 2000s.
Brad responded a little later in a way that showed his appreciation for someone playing along, and @pizza_i_ordered was born. At the time, there was no native Twitter search (and no trending topics on twitter.com— crazy, right?), but there was a website called Summize that offered a good Twitter search tool. I would use it to find people who had mentioned ordering pizza on Twitter, which in my mind was an act of desperate boredom, and tried to spice things up a little bit by attempting to engage them in conversation, generally just with something like this:
There were a few things working for and against me in this activity:
Not everyone knew about Summize’s Twitter Search
This led to some interesting interactions when people thought that I was some kind of magician.
There weren’t a ton of bots on Twitter at the time
I wasn’t a bot, and I tried to make the things I said different every time so that someone investigating this crazy person who had sent them an @reply wouldn’t be led to think that I was some script that did nothing but bug them. Nowadays there are so many bots who send you spammy messages based on keywords that you might say, the novelty has kind of worn off and you’re less likely to be interested in engaging a stranger who @replies to you.
Lots of people use the web interface
The default web interface doesn’t notify you in any way when someone you don’t follow sends you an @reply. You have to look in the Mentions (then “Replies”) section of the site. This is good for the user, but bad for someone like me. It was because of this that I started to look specifically in the Summize results for people using clients that I knew would integrate @replies from strangers directly into the main timeline or would at least use a visual or audio cue that told the person to check their Mentions.
People generally assume the worst with strangers on the internet
And with good reason. Lots of people on the internet are out there to make fun of you, steal information from you, sell something to you, and so on. There’s no good reason anyone should reply to my dumb messages, but I was always glad when they understood what I was trying to do and got involved.
Hall of Fame
These are my favorite Twitter conversations I had while I was doing the @pizza_i_ordered thing, besides the original conversation with @bradsucks above.
I haven’t used the @pizza_i_ordered account in a while, and I probably won’t again. It’s for this reason only that I’m writing about it now, revealing who I am in the process. As mentioned above, the density of bots, many of which are spam, and the general hostility I’ve seen against (automated) keyword @reply accounts (I’m not aware of any other manual ones like mine, if anyone knows of any I’d love to see accounts of how those worked out) leads me to believe that with the way Twitter has changed as a service, this account isn’t really welcome anymore. When Twitter started we didn’t necessarily know a lot of people on the service, so interacting with a random stranger was exciting and intriguing. Nowadays most people have established their social networks and they just want to be left alone, using Twitter as a communication tool within those already established relationships. @pizza_i_ordered was a fun experiment, but it belongs to a different type of service than what Twitter is now.