Buddy: The Story of a Chrome Extension Companion Who Became a Troll

If you’re a developer working from home, things can get lonely. Why not use your skills to build a bot to keep you company? The following is a cautionary tale from one developer who got more than he bargained for when he & friends gave life to Buddy.

Tim Holman is a web developer who recently spoke about his Buddy project at Front Trends in Poland. Holman gave his creation the ability to speak in order to keep him company. Unfortunately, when Buddy reached his final build Tim only lived with him for a single week. It turns out that Buddy is an obnoxious jerk.

Holman programmed Buddy to watch his browser surfing and react. Thus, imagine Holman visiting a distracting website and Buddy will humorously chastise him for not working. While it sounds like this Chrome extension would help you stay productive, Buddy could actually sabotage you as well. In the following video presentation, Holman illustrates that if he has too many tabs open, Buddy gives him 5 seconds to sort it out. If Holman fails to rectify the situation, Buddy will close a random tab. Later, Holman reasoned that the magic is gone when you’re building your own thing and know the product, in and out. Therefore, he opened up the code to some friends because he wanted the “surprise and delight” that was missing. That’s when things get really interesting. From slowly fading Google search pages to pizza delivery. Check out the video, it’s quite entertaining.

Tim Holman’s story reminds me of Microsoft’s short-lived Twitter AI, Tay. The Microsoft experiment was taken offline because some Twitter users abused her ability to customize comments. Tay was able to learn from users and mirror their opinions & responses back to them. In Holman’s case, his friends knew him and some customized the code to annoy him, but not abuse him.

Holman’s developer friends added to his project in very creative ways. In the end, Holman says that creativity comes because of the latitude, or leeway, that he and his friends had. He advises us to be fluid when we’re starting new projects, instead of rigid. Keep an open mind as you move forward with new ventures. Of course, if you’re working alone & looking for input, you can give Buddy a spin yourself. You can get the code over at Github.