A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend Pilot Theatre’s Shift Happens conference in York which I also covered for the excellent CultureVulture blog. Now, I’m a pretty jaded conference goer and nowadays I like to think I’ve seen it all before. By the end of the conference’s second day I was feeling just that, tired, dehydrated and like I was ready to shoot off home and see my family. In the conference foyer, just prior to the last talk of the day I was speaking to the excellent Abhay Adhikari of Dhyaan Design about planning to shoot off early when he asked “Are you not staying for Jonathan? I think you’ll really like it”. Abhay, bless him, knows me fairly well, he also knows cool. Not the sunglasses, celeb, diamond earring cool but good, honest, geeky “coooooool” cool. In short, based on that, I decided to stay.
So, with a few client calls to make and some artwork sign-offs still outstanding, I ambled into the seat at the back of the balcony of York’s beautiful Theatre Royal one last time and, almost completely out of charge in every conceivable way, settled in for the last talk.
The talk was from Jonathan Harris of Number27.org. Jonathan describes himself as “an artist working with complex datasets”, as you probably will have gathered from the tone of the piece so far that’s a bit like Caravaggio describing himself as “a bloke who paints Jesus and that”. Looking back on a lot of my past posts this year it seems I’ve been quite consumed by the idea of presenting information, and lots of it, in particularly beautiful ways and Jonathan certainly ticks that box in a big, fat way. Rather than hyperbolise much more about the man, he possesses the sort of profound, beat-poet Americana of Keroac, Dylan or early Woolf but manages to uniquely fuse it all with the sort of Bay Area timbre and vulnerability of a very modern geek. He is, in short, a pretty engaging guy. Personality cults aside though it was Jonathan’s work that I found the most interesting thing about him. You can see all of his projects on his website here but I’m going to just pick out a few highlights below.
We Feel Fine was the first thing of Jonathan’s that I happened across. It trawls the Social Web for mentions of the words “feel” or “feeling” to analyse and present fantastic infographics of the content. The really fantastic thing about We Feel Fine is that it presents its information back in such lovely ways, the realisations and the interfaces – of which there are many – are actually tagged back to human emotions. The database entries are also visually represented in a way which mimics the emotion they represent, so the “fear” entries act scared and the happy ones group together. It even goes so far as to reference the weather in the person’s area at the time, mind blowing.
The Whale Hunt is a fascinating, if a little gruesome, project which uses tagged and Categorised photos to chart Jonathan’s nine day expedition with Inuit Whale Hunters using tagged variables like “blood” and “heart rate” to track the excitement – and also boredom – of the experience. It splits down in a number of ways like by cast member and chapter and you can also see a mosaic of all the images which really hits home the colourlessness of the ice and the gore of the blood when they actually catch the whale.
Lovelines works in similar territory to the We Feel Fine project, concentrating this time on the rawest of human conditions of Love and Hate. It uses the same data collector to harvest mentions of the words “Love” and “Hate” from blogs every few minutes, it then also collects the name, age, geolocation and any other data it can about the blogger and factors that into the presentation too. It’s formed through the three different themes of Words, Pictures and Superlatives and gives you an odd experience of being a detached voyeur.
Update: It would seem that the massive amounts of traffic my blog has sent to We Feel Fine has melted the servers. *cough* I’m sure it’ll be back up soon.