This is the story of a tap, who – by the grace of technology – has finally been granted a voice. For centuries he has been humankind’s silent servant, swiftly and adeptly fulfilling our need for cold, frothy refreshment. But no more. We set out to devise a digital bartender of sorts – a tweeting tap that would amuse us with his witty banter, let us know when the keg was getting low and remind visitors to tip their bartender…
Tweeting Bar isn’t the first unexpected entity to communicate with the outside world via social media. In fact, he’s in good company, joining a motley crew of formerly muted plants, houses, cats and space robots who all now boast the capacity to “speak,” thanks to Twitter.
So, how did he get from tapping to tweeting? View the video summary below for a quick demonstration or continue reading for the story behind the bar…
It was a Friday evening at digital agency 360i‘s New York offices and employees were gathered around the company’s newly-completed bar. The beer was flowing – and so were the ideas, as they often are at 360i. “If cats can tweet, why can’t taps?” 360i CEO Bryan Wiener wondered. Wasting no time, a diverse team at 360i assembled to tackle the skunkworks project. Part personae development, part technology challenge, it was sure to be a unique and, err, beer-filled project. It would be a fun exercise to give a personality to our new bar – and to remind us when our keg was getting a little low.
A brainstorm ensued and a team of 360iers began devising potential solutions for the challenge that required the use of different sensor technologies, including tilt-sensitive contact switches, flood sensors and accelerometers.
Mike Levin, Director of SEO strategy, volunteered to continue the research. Thirsty for a solution (and perhaps a drink from a tweeting tap), he consulted Google. It was during this discovery phase that he learned about the surprisingly large market that exists for measuring beer flow, due in large part to European standardization practices.
Further research led Mike to Keg-Meter, a flow measuring device company based in Ft. Collins, Colorado. In Mike’s discussions with Keg-Meter he learned that the company had plans to modify a device to add a serial port that could send data indicating how much beer was poured and how much was left in the keg. After some discussion (and a little prodding), the kind folks at Keg-Meter agreed to build us a custom product.
Within days, we had the product in hand. In studying the device, Mike and 360i Tech VP Tim Driscoll learned how its sensor “felt” the beer being sucked down the hose. After adjusting the meter sensitivity so the numbers on the LED readout accurately reflected the change in volume, they then ensured the signals were being transferred down the serial cable. Mike and Tim wired the apparatus up to the serial port, drew another 12-ounces and hoped for the best.
It worked! Characters appeared on the laptop screen each time a draft was drawn. The tap could now make noise, even if he didn’t have anything to say yet. Each time Mike and Tim pulled a draft, new random characters appeared on the screen. Though the tap’s lexicon was painfully limited, this was the consistency – and promise – they’d hoped to see. It was now time to configure the server and software.
Now that the sensor was installed, Ameet Doshi and Justin Gerry (Head of Software Development and Sr. Network Administrator, respectively) configured a Linux operating system and began writing code to be used with Twitter API, which allows developers to access a library of data and transmit it to the microblogging platform. In our case, data collected by the Keg-Meter is sent to a computer via a serial port. This data is then integrated with the API in order to send “tweets” from @TweetingBar.
So how does it work? PHP code reads data transmitted by the Keg-Meter, and then uses monitoring software to drop a record of the pour into a log. MySQL, an open source database, is used for keeping record of the pours. Finally, another program (called Cron) steps in to examine the pour history and decides what to tweet and when. This program enables Ameet and Justin to insert specific rules for the tap – it examines the database log, applies logic, determines the message and sends instructions to Twitter to post message.
To create the tap’s unique personality, 360i Brand Manager Amanda Bird and yours truly developed a set of automated messages to be tweeted based on specific conditions, i.e. when someone pours a beer, when there’s a party (a lot of pours in a short amount of time) and when no one has used the tap for awhile. As with any new talker, the tap struggled at first. He repeated himself on occasion, and often said things that didn’t quite make sense. But with practice he got better – a lot better. He even developed a bit of an attitude problem, as you’ll discover if you follow @TweetingBar.
Our faithful (albeit feisty) servant, Tweeting Bar now stands as proud paradigm of what can be accomplished when technological innovation converges with social media. Once silent and sullen, he’s now the life of the party here at 360i. Cheers – and come visit us sometime.