Scientific Cat Name Generation

This is one of the most interesting little projects I’ve done recently. I got to apply some of my interest in randomly generated content to a real marketing purpose. The Scoop Away brand is whimsical, which offered a great opportunity to build a complex engine for recommending cat names. The stakes were low as far as making recommendations. After all, it’s hard to argue definitively about the right name for a cat. Regardless, I built a system that allowed non-technical folks work their creative magic and mixed in some rules to make it seem like a very scientific name generate that produces consistent results. That is, if you answer the questions the same way, you will get the same results.

Configuration for the generator is done through two CSV files, one that outlines all questions and answers and one that contains all the recommended names. The first file has one row per question. After the text of the question, pairs of columns contain the answer text and an answer image filename. For example, the first question is as follows.

gender What gender cat are you naming? Male male.png Female female.png

The second file lists one name per row with the text answers in following columns. A truncated example row follows.

Ace Female Other Chocolate Pretty high

We have the name “Ace” as suggested for female cats with primarily brown fur (among ten other dimensions). This second CSV file is a big matrix that allows me to match an input set of answers to sort all the names based on how many answers match. All questions are treated with equal weight. This does produce some times. The tie-breaker is a pseudo-random number seeded by the current month number. This produces the same results for the same answers for a span of a month. Next month, the answers will be in a different order. A year later, the order will be same again.

One key piece that made this possible was a jQuery plugin for reading CSV files. I found Evan Plaice’s jquery-csv on google code. The docs are great and it was easy to get it going.

I implemented the generator as a jquery plugin itself. You can check out the code here: Next, I hope to adapt this technique for a more serious product selector. Hopefully that exercises the code in way that shakes out any bugs in the logic.

News Programming

New MySpace Apps: Random Band Names and Random Advice

I now have two apps live on MySpace, Random Advice and Random Band Names. The core functionality is exactly the same as what’s on Leon’s Random Generators. Both of them place content on your MySpace profile. You can see them in action on my profile page,

It’s somewhat obtuse to get the apps on your own profile. Visit the app’s profile page (linked above). Click the button to add the app. Then, modify your profile and add the “module”. (I’m hand-waving a bit here). I think you must be upgraded to the 2.0 version of profiles.

Despite my bickering about how I was fighting with the approval process last month, I did get the advice generator active. The band names app was approved within hours. So maybe they like to hassle unproven developers. In any event, the advice generator has been live for less than a month and has 116 “active users”. I’m not clear if that means installs, or if people have activated the module in their profile. I can’t find any examples of profiles with it installed.

Creative Pursuits

Leon’s Random Generators Appreciation Society

Now appearing on Facebook…a fan club for the random generators.


Random Facebook Status Messages, Delivered Daily

Late last year, I knocked out a little facebook app that pushed a random status message into your facebook account. I used it as an excuse to learn about the API. It was particularly good because it’s one thing to simply put content up into facebook. It’s another thing to update a user’s status. I got to the idea by way of suggestinon from my buddy, John Szeder. He wanted his status to update without having to log in.

For many months, my little app didn’t do that, exactly. You still had to log in, click into the app and then click a submit button. I knew exactly how to make it automatic, but I let myself be lazy. I thought that if a user never came to use my app, he would never think about my app or see a bit of advertisement. Although I have no expectations that this app will generate real revenue, it’s fun to pretend it might. It’s good practice.

I should take a second here to reveal a “secret”. It’s not really a secret, because it’s easy to find if you want. I’ll tell you now. You can learn a lot of good ideas if you pay attention to Steve Gillmor and his Gillmor Gang. I have had the fortune of having discovered him about three years ago, plus I have a 35-minute commute that gives me a ample time to listen to the podcasts. Sometimes the ideas shared on the show simply spark my imagination. This time they gave me an idea I could use.

The particular idea was that every message on Twitter is an advertisement. As is typical with a Gillmorism, the metaphorical nature of this idea encourages you to leave your dictionary on your desk. Steve went for at least a year straight saying that MS Office was dead. It’s not that it makes no money. It’s not that no one uses it. It’s just that it’s headed for anilation, but hardly anyone has noticed yet.

So, don’t try to take this too literally. A tweet is not a billboard shouting at you about cigarettes that you don’t care to smell, much less smoke. Twitter is a medium for transmitting ideas that you might be interested. It’s smart because it allows you to opt in for those ideas. You’re smart because you chose emitters that you hope will send the type of ideas you’re interested in.

If a tweet is an adverstisement, then so is a facebook status. I’m already funneling all of my tweets into my facebook status. Therefore, they are the same thing. Most people are using the status messages to advertise to their friends the trivia of what they are doing. Some people use them to share links. I’m using them to send people to a random Amazon search on the off chance it will be amusing and they will buy something.

Granted, it’s a fine line. I think my weird, random status messages are interesting. So do about 15 other people (right now). Maybe their friends like it. Maybe their friends find it annoying. Maybe those people like that their friends find it annoying. If I were pushing 20th century shout-style ads, I bet people would be angry.