Botwiki Interview: Erin McKean

Today I’m chatting with Erin McKean, the founder of Wordnik. is an online English dictionary and language resource that provides dictionary and thesaurus content, some of it based on print dictionaries such as the Century Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, WordNet, and GCIDE.


Wordnik’s API is quite popular with botmakers and powers several bots. You can support Wordnik by adopting a word for a year.

Erin: Hi I’m Erin, I run Wordnik. I made a couple little Twitter bots (most recently @infixbot and @BotrahamLincoln, the world’s dumbest Markov Chained Lincoln Bot) and I always want feedback on how to make the Wordnik API easier to use/show better data.

Stefan: So how did you get into making bots?

Erin: My first bot was actually made with Yahoo Pipes. It mashes up the name of a very famous actor with headlines, to make it seem like famous actor is the subject of all news. I rewrote it a few years back to basically be a fork of Darius’ s Two Headlines.

Stefan: Ah, neat! And what is it like to run Wordnik? Do you get to work with code?

Erin: 1. Fun 2. I do get to code! (see 1)

Stefan: That’s really cool! What is your favorite project that uses your API?

Erin: Probably the site itself.

Stefan: Haha, dogfooding, huh?

Erin: Totally. But I love seeing new bots using Wordnik.

Stefan: What other projects — or side projects — are you involved in right now?

Erin: I blog at (since 2005!) and I do the

Stefan: Hah, I love using semicolons; where do I sign up?

Stefan: So, what is one cool/interesting/weird thing you learned this week? Not necessarily tech related.

Erin: I tweet those all the time, here’s the latest:

Stefan: Ah, Australians. Did you know the word selfie was coined by an Australian?

Erin: Nope!

Stefan: Yep, true story.

Stefan: They also seem to have a very good sense of humor.

Stefan: Speaking of Australia, do you ever get to travel?

Erin: I do get to travel — mostly to give talks, which I love. I got to go to Melbourne a few years back, and NZ earlier this year. Both amazing, would go back in a heartbeat.

Stefan: Oh yeah, I believe that Wordnik was born out of a TED talk you once gave?

“Erin McKean launches Wordnik — the revolutionary online dictionary — thanks to her TED Talk”

Erin: I talked about it in a more jokey way at XOXO last year:

Stefan: And to change the subject completely again, the NYC #botALLY meetup is happening tomorrow. I think I’ve seen Wordnik putting up a bot-related event as well, actually, I believe you do have more regular meetups?

Erin: Yep! We have regular meetups in SF.

Erin: I SO wish I could be at the NYC botally meetup …

Stefan: Yeah, they’re actually going to be meeting quite close near where I work, but I don’t think I’ll be able to attend myself. I don’t advertise this much, but I am married and have a pre-schooler. Plus all these bot-projects.

Erin: Ha, yes, kids! They are very time-consuming. I have a teenager, he hasn’t made any bots yet …

Stefan: Don’t worry, he’ll get there! Kids these days, with the internet being so ubiquitous.

Erin: I hope so. I was his age when I first started coding but I didn’t start doing it ‘for reals’ until a few years ago.

Stefan: I actually started a bit late, myself. Well, similarly, I started making little programs when I was a teenager, but only really got into my line of business, web development, hmm, two or three years ago?

10 Questions: Erin McKean, founder, Reverb

Stefan: So I wanted to end these interviews with a song the person I’m talking to likes. Is there any particular reason for picking Jackie Wilson Said?

Erin: It never fails to make me happy when I play it

Stefan: Well that is a really good reason! Thanks a lot for your time, it was super nice talking to you!

Erin: Thanks so much for including me!

Posted 2 years ago by Stefan.

This is an interview from the Botwiki Interview series. Read more.

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