The Strange And Wondrous Adventures Of My Very Popular Vacuum Cleaner

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I admit it’s unusual for my vacuum cleaner to have a Facebook account, but I assure you there are legitimate reasons.  But first, let me introduce you to my vacuum cleaner. I assure you, he doesn’t bite.
Opposite Cat!
That is Opposite Cat, my cute little robotic vacuum.  He’s a Roomba, which means that I press a button and he goes off scurrying around the floor in a random pattern, beeping when he’s full.  We named him Opposite Cat because unlike a cat, he sucks up hair instead of shedding it.  We think Opposite Cat is really neat.
But that’s not why I made Opposite Cat a star.  I made him a star because I’m a web developer, and occasionally I have to program Facebook applications.  I’m often the admin for these apps, and so if I want to see what it looks like for a “normal” user, I need another account to log into.  I could have created a fake name, but instead I just created a toss-off email address and made an account for my vacuum, who I thought no one would ever see.
I did not count on Facebook’s relentless friends-making algorithm.
Within moments, Facebook had tracked down Opposite Cat’s email account, and decided that since its email address was also from theferrett.com and we both lived in Rocky River, it must be related to me.  So within seconds – eerily – Facebook provided a list of several people my vacuum might know, which included me, my wife, and several friends who had, in fact, met my robot.
My vacuum, being a solitary sort, opted not to friend them.  But Facebook contacted some of those friends, saying, “Hey, d’you know this robot?” and lo, two of my buddies sent friends requests.  (Ironically, neither of them had met my robot, apparently preferring its online presence.) And so a brief social network had been formed.
In the months to follow, Facebook has been very concerned about my vacuum cleaner’s lack of an online presence.  It sends emails, reminding me I have an account.  Once a day, it tells me what my friends are up to, summarizing their best posts in an email.  Occasionally, Facebook sends my robot a mail saying, “Here are some new people you might know!” and damn if they’re not good friends of mine.  And it keeps reminding me that I can log on, am I okay, how are you doing, Opposite Cat?
Today, I logged in, and Facebook immediately splooged all over, sending me a congratulatory email – “WELCOME BACK TO FACEBOOK!  Do you want to post some pictures?  Write an essay?  We’ll help you find some friends!”  In fact, Facebook is positively nicer to my robot than it is to me – one suspects that because, like a real cat, my vacuum cleaner is aloof.  It senses that my robot needs a little more connection in its life.
Which is funny, and creepy.  I know Facebook has turned down Native Americans for having “made-up names,” but perhaps it senses a kindred spirit in Opposite Cat’s mechanical nature.  And the way in which Facebook has successfully extrapolated much of Opposite Cat’s limited social life from a handful of data factors is an object lesson in how much can be gained from powerful computing sources.  It still wants Opposite Cat to friend me, and my wife, and Cat Valente, and Eric Meyer.  Facebook has got a good bead on who Opposite Cat is, and absent of the fact that knowing that Opposite Cat is in fact an inanimate object, it has a terrifying bead on who it usually hangs around with.
I wonder how far I could take it.  If I started posting appropriate statuses about Opposite Cat’s daily activities, would Facebook figure it out and start offering to sell Opposite Cat floor-cleaning products, replacement Roomba parts, offer rug-cleaning deals?  Facebook has done so much with so little, one wonders how much it’s collecting on me, who’s been freely giving it reams of data on a daily basis as I like things and comment and wonder.
If it knows my robot as well as it does, what sort of a profile does Facebook have for me?
It’s been suggested that I should hook Opposite Cat into Facebook – adding a webcam to take pictures, letting it post statuses (“I’m all done!  My bag is full!”), occasionally checking into FourSquare.  I’m too lazy to do that, but it’s an interesting idea.
Even if I was really into the hardware hacking movement, I probably wouldn’t make my vacuum Facebook compatible, though.  It’d be a string of sad statuses – because for Opposite Cat, life truly sucks.

1 Comment

  1. Dawn
    Jul 31, 2012

    I would totally read Opposite Cat’s stuff, only as a smoke-screen for an inside scoop on the upcoming robot revolution.
    “No, you can’t kill/maim/integrate me! I know Opposite Cat!”
    “Oh, you must be a robot lover, then. Very well, hu-man, move along…”

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