When a Tweet Turns Into an R Package

December 12, 2017
By

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Reproduced with the kind permission of our Head of Data Engineering, Mark Sellors and first published on his blog

When a Tweet Turns Into an R Package

Boy, that escalated quickly

I just wanted to write up a brief post about the power of R, its community, and tell the story of how actually putting stuff out into the world can have amazing consequences.

About 24 hours ago I was going to tweet something like this:

Hey Mac #rstats users – system(‘say “hello rstats user”’)

I’d been playing with the MacOS command line tool, ‘say’, with the kids, and just figured it would be funny to make R say stuff.

Before I tweeted though, I thought I’d better check that it worked as intended. While I was doing that I decided it would be fun to expose the say command’s different voices and figured I’d make a gist on github instead, as it was getting too long for a tweet.

So, I started playing around with the different voices and thinking of a nice way to expose that and by this point I’m thinking I might as well just make it into a package. Making a package in RStudio is so easy, it seemed like the easiest way to share what I was doing. And so now we have the rsay package.

Bear in mind that I didn’t start out to create a package. It has one function, which is essentially the thinnest wrapper around an existing command line tool and it only works on MacOS and it’s pretty silly really, so I didn’t expect there to be a great deal of interest.

In the end, instead of tweeting that one command, I tweeted about how I accidentally made this R package.

That in turn got noticed by the awesome Mara Averick, which resulted in this tweet:

Then Mark Edmondson sees Mara’s tweet, and mentions how it might be fun to build it into a sort of Babelfish using some of his existing work around the Google APIs. (Mark knows a lot about Google’s APIs and R!)

A few hours after initially mentioning this, the following tweet appears in my timeline:

He’d only gone and done it – How cool is that?!?!

To recap; silly idea, and R’s easy to use packaging tools lead to an accidental (but still pretty silly) R package. Package is popularised by prominent developer advocate. Package is then integrated into a shiny app for automated machine translation, by well known R/Google API developer.

It’s been a fun 24 hours, but the main thing to take away, is just to get your stuff out there, even if you don’t think it’s that great/interesting/useful. When you share an idea, even if it seems frivolous or trivial, that idea takes on a life of its own and you never know where that may lead.

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