A trailer parked in a plaza at Melrose Arch over a recent weekend was the unlikely scene of a triumph for Twitter.
The social network has had a bad rap for the flood of vile, threatening and demeaning tweets that have stained its name in recent years. What, with presidents using it to settle scores and Twitter often appearing incapable of dealing with hate speech, it would have been easy to write it off as a lost cause.
But causes are exactly what thrive on Twitter, and these can be tremendously positive causes.
Standard Bank used it to launch a unique social campaign to show that “inspiring and positive tweets can be turned into tangible educational tools, with the help of 3D printing and laser cutters”.
The concept was that anyone posting a tweet with the hashtag #GoodFollowsGood would trigger a chain of events that would deliver instructions to a 3D printer to produce a school stationery space case to a laser cutter to produce a maths set to go into the case.
“For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” said Katlego Mahleka, senior manager, brand at Standard Bank Group. “Some call it the concept of cause and effect. Others would term it reaping what you sow. At Standard Bank we like to say #GoodFollowsGood.
“Our actions today have a ripple effect that influences our individual and collective futures. This is why we choose to use our business decisions to promote positive change on our continent, and indeed the world.”
To demonstrate the impact of the philosophy, he said, the bank launched its Tweet Machine campaign to show that positive actions and words can be transformed into tangible outcomes that have a lasting impact on people’s lives.
Travelling the country from August to October, the Tweet Machine is a mobile industrial container that acts as a factory. The global reach of social media, linked to 3D printers and laser cutters, will produce at least 1 000 set square and ruler kits for grade 6 learners.
Standard Bank says it is the first installation in the world to turn tweets into educational tools.
“The idea will be to kick-start a positive-impact initiative on social media by encouraging South Africans to tweet about something positive using the #GoodFollowsGood hashtag. Standard Bank will then facilitate the forward payment of this positivity by transforming these tweets into stationery sets for learners that are part of the Standard Bank Tutuwa-BRIDGE School Programme.
“The five-year partnership with Tutuwa-BRIDGE seeks to support schools in improving learner outcomes. Both learners and school performance will be monitored to ensure the impact is effective and long-lasting.”
It seems simple, but the technology powering it took several months to put together.
It uses a Python programming script on a master computer to scour Twitter as well as other social media channels for the #GoodFollowsGood hashtag. While Twitter is the home of the hashtag, the computer will also search Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn for the posts.
These are processed by a micro-controller unit built on the Raspberry Pi platform, which will send commands to the 3D printers and laser cutters in the trailer.
“The Tweet Machine activation is a live demonstration of positive words having a positive impact, while at the same time creating tangible education tools to benefit young learners,” said Mahleka.
It won’t stop there, as the tweet machine will remain in service once the campaign ends.
“Two of the three 3D printers will be donated to an all-female black cooperative made up of dependants of South African military veterans,” Mahleka promised.
“Thanks to an upskilling programme conducted by our Business Development Service Provider, Human Capital Learning Solutions (HCLS), in partnership with the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and the Standard Bank Enterprise Development team, the cooperate will use the 3D printers to establish an innovation and education centre called InfoTech Café, which will provide IT services to the Sedibeng community.
“Whether it’s in skills development, infrastructure or education, we believe any investment we make should have a positive impact on both current and future generations.
“Africa has enormous potential and we are committed to moving her forward by driving inclusive economic growth, developing and implementing better ways of doing business, and supporting economic integration and development across the continent.”
How the Tweet Machine will live on
The InfoTech Cafe will leverage the 3D printers to enable young entrepreneurs and engineers to prototype design concepts for the purpose of making proposals to potential investors.
In addition, the centre will provide assistance to learners with school projects, printing solutions for small-business and community events and small-business services, including Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission registrations, business planning and marketing collateral design, as well as Information Technology training.
The remaining printer will be given to the Standard Bank Incubator to help small businesses develop concept prototypes.
Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee