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I've been spending heaps of time in the travel chatroom recently, just like I once spent lots of time in the Wiktionary IRC channel.

On the IRC channel we had a few bots that could automate things we often used to do, such as Google fights and retrieving definitions of words.

I had a search around and couldn't find much talk about bots running in our chatrooms here.

Are they OK, not OK, or has nobody really asked before?

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2 Answers 2

I take it you haven't been to see the good Doctor yet.

Admittedly I've never been a fan of bots just for their ability to be abused, but as long as the bot behaves responsibly, both Eliza there and FlackBot's continued existence seem to suggest that bots are indeed tolerated.

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It helps that the bots have been written by the development team. –  ChrisF Dec 20 '11 at 13:56
    
Note that FlackBot is actually George Edison's project. –  Tim Stone Dec 20 '11 at 13:57
    
Ah - I forgot that, but then George is the top API user and moderator. –  ChrisF Dec 20 '11 at 13:58
    
And apparently FlackBot uses some closed APIs or somesuch which is apparently why it's closed source. –  hippietrail Dec 20 '11 at 14:04
    
@hippietrail I don't know exactly how it works, but George doesn't have any access a normal user doesn't have when it comes to this. I don't think the bot uses the API, it just pretends to be a normal browser when connecting (I think George mentioned once that it uses webkit, but I'm not sure). It should be possible for anyone to implement the same thing –  Michael Mrozek Dec 20 '11 at 15:31
    
Hmm he says ... currently some proprietary API keys are what's holding up the project from going open source ... but I suppose I don't know what that could mean exactly. –  hippietrail Dec 20 '11 at 15:41
    
I can clarify this - at one point in time, FlackBot was using API keys for dictionary lookups on a third party site that required the API key to remain secret. This restriction has long since been removed. The code powering FlackBot's "brain" can be found here - the code that connects the brain to the chat server is proprietary to prevent abuse. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Jun 7 '13 at 23:56

With Coding Kitten, FlackBot, and Eliza, there are at least three precedents for this.

There is no official support, e.g. an API or something like that; any bot has go through the same channels as a normal user. This includes Eliza (which, just for the record, was just a fun weekend project of mine, and nothing I did in the capacity as a dev team member).

There's also no promise that we're not going to break it. If we feel that it's necessary to change an AJAX route or JSON format, we will not care whether this breaks anything but the official JavaScript client. We may be nice and give people a heads-up, but we also may not.

Finally, a bot will be held against abuse standards just like any other user. If it "behaves" inappropriately, we're not going to like that. This holds both as far as the actual chatting (content/flooding) goes, as well as considering communication with the server (if you poll the server for new messages every 50ms, that's going to get you banned pretty quickly).

That said, we're all programmers here, and this is the kind of "exercise" we like. So we'll probably not come after you with pitchforks.

But just to make it clear: We can, at any time and with or without any reason, say "We don't want that anymore; turn it off now."

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Any pointers to JSON formats used by StackExchange ? I have a bot to hookup, see jsonbot.org .. And why not provide a proper API ? Is this a long poll thing, like convore uses ? Guess i'll go google for a bit ;] –  jsonbot Feb 7 '12 at 13:07
    
Ok i found the FLackbot code .. that should get me going. Thnx ! code.google.com/p/flackoverstow/downloads/list –  jsonbot Feb 7 '12 at 13:26
    
@jsonbot: That's not where FlackBot's code is located. You can find some of it here: bazaar.launchpad.net/~george-edison55/flackbot/trunk/files –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Jun 7 '13 at 18:56
    
Given this incident, I propose another rule (which I thought would have gone without saying): communication with a bot must be opt-in. If a bot replies to messages targeted at it, fine. If a bot spontaneously posts messages that fit the room's topic and audience, fine. But no pinging users who weren't asking for it. –  Gilles Nov 12 '13 at 22:26

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