back to blog

Communing via the Dead – wedü’s Interactive Twitter Chattering Skull

To celebrate Halloween with style, wedü unleashed an interactive, Twitter-powered chattering skull, affectionately named “Yorick”. Powered by a fairly nerdy mix of technology, Yorick narrates tweets from select brands and organizations, as well as those sent to his Twitter account @wedurick (wedü + Yorick).  
    Only a few days into his afterlife with the agency, Yorick became a featured event with video streaming service Livestream, where he’s earned several hundred followers. [Author’s note: At time of writing, Yorick is only a few days old. We’ll provide up-to-date numbers after Halloween.] Yorick wasn’t built for a specific marketing goal, but for the sake of giving people something fun and novel to play with this Halloween season. In spite of this, or more likely because of it, he’s quickly becoming a widely shared experience from our agency.

Yorick Update (10/23)

Yorick has gotten very popular. He’s enjoyed stardom on Livestream as a featured event, on geek-maker haven Hackaday and on the manufacturer blog of his electronic brain, Raspberry Pi Foundation. He’s read thousands of tweets from popular streams such as his favorite news source @Mashable, his dream girl @TheRealElvira and hundreds of submissions from Twitter users ranging from skeletal puns to the surprisingly heartwarming favorite below.
@wedurick TayLeigh Rose you better listen to your dad and grandpa and grandma or else I’ll come get you — Justin Barnes (@barnes9559) October 20, 2013
Yorick’s Livestream and Livestream clips have had over 12,000 viewers and this very post has had 1,000 readers.

Getting Inside Our Skull

Yorick is “haunted” by a Raspberry Pi, and an Arduino micro-controller that turns the public’s tweets into Yorick’s voice. The Raspberry Pi is a $35 low-powered Linux-based microcomputer that’s perfect for interactive installations such as Yorick, for both energy efficiency and its general purpose in/out (GPIO) headers which can be used to control lights, servo motors and other electronic devices. The Raspberry Pi uses Twitter’s API to scan and stream Tweets in real time using Python. Tweets are then processed through the text-to-speech capabilities of Google Translate. An Arduino, a small, open-source micro-controller, maps the voice of spoken Tweets from the Raspi to accurate mouth movements using the hobby servo made for steering a remote control car. The servo is connected to the jaw bone using a straightened paper clip. (We spared no expense or office supply.) By separating the voice capabilities between the jaw-chattering Arduino and Twitter-reading Raspberry Pi, nearly any voice source can be used for Yorick. I’m not ashamed to admit that this skull read me a few hours of Malcom Gladwell’s latest book – though I probably should be. Yorick’s skull is an anatomical model as seen in science class, not a Halloween prop. The total cost of Yorick was under $200 in parts and technology with about a weekend in building.

Interacting with Yorick

wedü’s social media team provides the non-computerized voice behind Yorick, surprising more than a few participants with real-time interaction whenever he’s present on camera. Yorick offers us the opportunity for some extra creative license. While we often take on the voice of our clients on social media, there’s a stark difference between being the persona of a national provider of travel assistance, a trusted local hospital system or one of the largest liquor distributors in the US, and being the voice of an undead skull. At the end of the day, there’s an expectation for the undead to be a bit snarky, especially if they have a British accent. In fact, when you’re an undead skull, bad puns (#skelepuns) are to be expected. To celebrate these horrifying jokes from Yorick’s friends across the globe, each #skelepun is marked with a classic rim shot.

Communing with the Undead

Follow @wedurick on Twitter, then send him a tweet!


Stupid Yorick Tricks (That We Kind of Regret)

I’m ashamed to admit it, but we gave Yorick the ability to ‘Rick Roll’ with a rather convincing rendition of Rick Astley’s classic. Tweet him the hashtag #rickroll to hear for yourself. A common trick with Google translate, Google Beatboxing was also added for users who tweet the #beatbox hashtag to @wedurick and use Google ‘Beatbox Code’ such as: “@wedurick #beatbox pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk”          
Ready to get started?

It seems like you're ready to do more. This is why we have to meet.