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Handing over @mathshistory

On 5th October 2010, eight years ago this week, I sent a tweet from a Twitter account I had registered on behalf of the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM). I was on BSHM Council at the time and, mindful of the Society’s charitable aim to develop awareness of the history of mathematics for the public benefit, I proposed starting a Twitter account. I thought a good way to generate a background level of activity for the account was to tweet a daily mathematician, taking my lead from the MacTutor website facility. So I set up @mathshistory and sent the first tweet, announcing the anniversary of the birth of Bernard Bolzano.

That autumn, I looked into the Twitter API and wrote myself a program that would run every day and tweet these little titbits. I loaded some messages into a database and scheduled a daily tweet at 10:23am starting from 16th December 2010.

Over the months that followed, I slowly built up a database of daily tweets, sometimes managing to get a few weeks ahead of the present, and sometimes missing days and filling them in the following year. Sometime in 2011 or 2012, I had a full year’s tweets in the database. Since then, I have been tweaking. Sometimes someone sends in an error and I make a correction. I’ve also swapped all the URLs from bit.ly (necessary in 2010 to fit the message in a tweet) to the full address. But, generally speaking, the script has pushed a daily mathematician onto the feed every day since then without interference.

Generally speaking, this has had some success. The account currently has about 65k followers. Twitter’s statistics system regularly records 10,000 ‘impressions’ per tweet (which Twitter defines as “Times a user is served a Tweet in timeline or search results”), several times that for a big name. (Though I tried to set up the database to promote less-well-known names and areas, of course the big names cause most interest.)

There is more to history than marking dates and reading biographies, but as an exercise in raising some awareness of history of mathematics, I think it is going pretty well.

And today I sent my last @mathshistory daily mathematician tweet.

Since BSHM got themselves a web server a little while ago, we have been chatting about moving the daily tweets over to it. I remain a member of BSHM, but I finished my term on Council in 2013. I think it does the Society a lot of good to have full control over its Twitter account and not be relying on me and my server. Over the summer we duplicated the database and code, and over the last few days we’ve been testing it. Now it’s ready to go.

So ends my eight-year run tweeting daily mathematicians from @mathshistory. Tomorrow’s tweet will be served from BSHM. Basically, followers should notice no difference, but for me it will be very strange – the first ever @mathshistory daily mathematician tweet not sent by me.

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