Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Tweeting Shabbos (Reminders) and Sefirat Ha'Omer Too!!!

Twitter is a great tool for learning, sharing, and accessing real-time data about emerging events.  I use my Twitter account as my own Personal Learning Network by following like-minded Jewish educators and educational technologists so I can stay ahead of the learning curve in discovering emerging technologies and reading about their applications to the classroom. For example, when Osama Bin Laden, Twitter was my first source of information. It gave me insight into the mood of the nation and the world (or at least the part of the world using Twitter).  Reading about The 10 Most Tweeted Verses in Response to Bin Laden's Death and listening to shiurim tweeted by YUTorah.org helped me frame my religious feelings about the event, advancing my personal Limud Torah and leading to fruitful conversations and chavruta sessions with my students.

I have recently discovered a new use for Twitter, Shabbos and Sefirat Ha'Omer reminders. After blogging about the almost addictive attraction that some "frum" teens have to texting on Shabbos, I decided to use that same technology as a weapon against Shabbos desecration. I started tweeting weekly reminders to my students to turn off their cell phones before Shabbos together with the candle lighting time for my home town, West Orange, NJ. This was highly successful. I even had some of my students who told me that they started following me on Twitter just to get the Shabbos candle lighting times.

When my friend and programmer extraordinaire, David Goldstein, saw these tweets, he decided to test his coding skills by building a Twitter app for me to automatically send these tweets around 2 hours before Shabbos.  You can see an example of this reminder below:


During Chol Hamoed Pesach, I then asked David if he could design a similar reminder for Sefirat Ha'Omer. Due to the 140 character limitations of Twitter, it would not tweet the whole text of the day's counting but a reminder of what day it is together with shortened link to the text of the day's complete counting with the bracha. This tweet was set up to send the new counting daily at 7:30PM EST Monday through Friday and 10:00PM on Motzi Shabbat. (I would not want any of these tweets going out on Shabbos because it might be maris ayin.) Here is an example of this reminder:


After many retweets of these reminders, users started to contact me and David requesting ways that these reminders could be sent to their Twitter stream and could be personalized for their candle lighting times. For Sefirat Ha'Omer, this was relatively easy. David Goldstein set up a new Twitter account @countsefira. If you follow this account you get two daily reminders, one at night (around 7:30PM EST) to count with a bracha and the other the following morning, in case your forgot, to count without a bracha. Here's today's reminder:



The personalized Shabbos reminder was obviously a more complex programming feat but David pulled it off. This feature also has a Twitter account, @ShabbosStarts, but I recommend against following this account since you would then receive candle lighting reminders for any person and location that has signed up for this service. Rather you can choose from one of the following options:

1. For a one-time candle lighting reminder, tweet: @shabbosstarts Your Zipcode
This will return a reply message to you within 15 minutes with the candle lighting time. An example for West Orange, NJ appears below:

Example input: @shabbosstarts 07052
Example:

Please note a limitation on this Shabbos reminder. It automatically checks for new messages every 15 minutes and sends out a tweet to a maximum of 20 users. This means that, the way it is currently set up, if more than 20 users tweet to @shabbosstarts within a 15 minute minute span then it will only send reminders to the first 20. Therefore, if you do not receive a reminder within 15 minutes, I suggest that you first try tweeting again before contacting me or David Goldstein.

2. For a reminder closer to Shabbos, tweet: @shabbosstarts #remind Your Zipcode
This will return a reply within 15 minutes and another reminder two hours before Shabbos.

3. For a weekly reminder, tweet: @shabbosstarts #weekly Zipcode
This will return a weekly reply two hours before every Shabbos.
To cancel this weekly reminder, tweet: @shabbosstarts #cancel Zipcode

I would like to thank David Goldstein for all of his hard work, purely on a voluntarily basis, in creating these valuable Twitter services for the benefit of Kelal Yisrael. If you have any further ideas for similar Jewish Twitter apps you can comment to this posting or contact David directly @golddave.