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I Sent an Emoji to the New York Public Library and You Should Too

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Tweet an emoji, get a corresponding image from the library’s impressive digital archive in return.

Tuesday morning, I picked up my phone, chose my favorite emoji—the woman in the red dress—and sent that dancing image soaring into the twittersphere.

The recipient of my tweet was a brand new bot designed by a team from the New York Public Library.

That’s right, I tweeted an emoji at a library, and you can too.

The best part about the @NYPLEmoji is that the bot writes back. If you tweet an emoji, any emoji, the bot sends you an uncannily apt image from the Library’s 691,631-item digital collection.

The bot was designed by Lauren Lampasone, a digital producer at the library and Leonard Richardson, a software architect.

This delightful tool doesn’t feel like a public engagement initiative, and that might be part of what makes it so effective. People may come for the emojis and stay for the rich digital archive that includes the meticulously beautiful bird illustrations by John James Audubon, haunting photographic studies of dance legend Isadora Duncan, and so much more.

There are three main lessons state and local governments could draw from this NYPL Twitter bot. First, this initiative should inspire government managers to take a creative look at resources that are already at their fingertips—perhaps there’s a new way to share an interesting data set, or a novel use for public spaces.

Second, if you want the public to take the time to interact with your data, your park, or your government officials you have to give them something worthwhile in return. Just the act of receiving an image in response from the library makes this bot somewhat addictive.

The third—and most important—lesson is that public engagement initiatives must be fun. And what could be more fun that tweeting the Vulcan Salute emoji at a library and getting a photograph of Leonard S. Nimoy in response?

Quinn Libson writes for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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