One of the great things about social media is that it’s a quick and easy soapbox to get on to voice all sorts of opinions. But on occasion, it is also used as both a means to ingest and request random information, and one of the places most Internet users turn to for help is of course, Twitter. And if you happen to be a regular online do-gooder, digital designer Sam Piggott has come up with a nifty way for you to lend a virtual hand to those who require your knowledge and expertise.
Screech is a social problem solving machine – it basically culls Twitter for posts from people who are seeking answers to questions and highlights them in one stream you can browse through. If you happen to find a query you think you know the answer to, the site allows you to easily tweet back at the asker with your solution. Your tweet will be appended with a link to the Screech site, so the person knows how his problem got miraculously answered by a well-meaning Internet stranger.
Piggott shares that Screech was fairly easy to assemble – it only took him one afternoon to create. He coded the site within four hours using Ruby on Rails along with the Twitter gem and deployed the project using his own server. The one snag he ran into while developing the tool? Picking what color scheme to use, which is something all designers like him know too well.
I gave Screech a whirl and the tweet I ended up choosing happened to be posted three days ago (and was actually already answered by our own Andrew Couts using the same site). According to Piggott, the tweets aggregated by Screech are updated every three hours, and every refresh pulls a new boatload of questions while also replacing old ones. “I’m still working on a more sophisticated system to siphon out some of the more rhetorical/unanswerable questions (i.e. ‘Does anybody know when gym class is this week?’), but it’s great to go on Twitter, search for ‘screechapp’ and see a ton of people using the app,” he tells me.
When asked why he thought building Screech was a good idea, Piggot shares his passion for the idea of strangers helping strangers ala Good Samaritan on the Web. “I’ve sent out tweets in the past like ‘Oh man, I really want to know ______’, hoping that maybe a follower of mine will reach out and help me. I find it de-motivating when I hear nothing back, and love the idea that even people who aren’t friends have a platform to help others out.”
The thing that pushed Piggott over the edge was when he set out to test the project’s concept using Twitter’s built-in Search function – through it he found questions he knew the answers to and soon found himself engaged in a Twitter repartee with someone he has never met before. “I’d made an awesome new Twitter friend and when I got a follow-back from that person, I was like ‘Yeah, I have to go build it now. This is awesome.’”
To celebrate this simple yet genius idea, here are some of Twitter’s weirdest and most interesting queries that need immediate attention, courtesy of Screech.