We feel fine
Written at 11:23, on Tuesday 8 January 2008. Tags: c-md .
Did you know that people are happiest in Hawaii and saddest in Singapore? And that people feel most sexy in Las Vegas? We Feel Fine is an art experiment that has collected allmost 10 million feelings from 2 million people around the world and has built a unique interface to dive into this data. The project of internet artist Jonathon Harris and Googler Sepandar Kamvar has been harvesting the expressions of human feelings from a large number of weblogs. The system searches occurences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”, and stores these in a database. It also extracts additional metadata, such as age, gender, geographical location and even weather conditions.
The interface is a thing of beauty in itself.
The interface to this data is a self-organizing particle system, where each particle represents a single feeling posted by a single individual. The particles’ properties – color, size, shape, opacity – indicate the nature of the feeling inside, and any particle can be clicked to reveal the full sentence or photograph it contains. The particles careen wildly around the screen until asked to self-organize along any number of axes, expressing various pictures of human emotion. We Feel Fine paints these pictures in six formal movements titled: Madness, Murmurs, Montage, Mobs, Metrics, and Mounds. (http://wefeelfine.org/mission.html)
At the top of the screen, there are the various attributes that function as advanced search parameters. These allow you to answer questions such as “How are women in the ages of 20-29 feeling on a rainy day in New York”? The top bar always shows the currently selected parameters, and hovering over it will open up the selection panel.
The navigation metaphor is based on movements that can be selected by scroll ingover the heart at the bottom left corner of the applet and clicking on the desired movement. In essence, each movement is a separate visualisation on a selection of the data.
The default movement, Madness, displays all particles shooting around the screen wildly until one is clicked, after which it reveals its content.
The Murmurs movement displays a scrolling list of the selected feelings.
The Montage view loads all images in a mosaic. Effectively, it shows you how a feeling “looks” like. Photographs can be clicked to zoom, revealing the associated sentence and author information.
The Mobs view reveals the statistical patterns in the chosed queries. It shows the most common metrics from each of the feeling, gender, age, weather and location attributes.
The Metrics views shows statistical anomalies of the various attributes, the traits that best distinguish the chosen query from the global average. Like the Mobs view, Metrics is divided in five axes.
The last view, Mounds, shows every feeling in the database, scaled and sorted in order of frequency. A small horizontal scrollbar can be used to traverse the complete database.
In all of the movements views, the particles content is revealed by it’s size, shape and color. The top 200 feelings are manually assigned colors that roughly correspond to the feeling (e.g. happy is bright, sad is dark).
The end result is a fascinating look into the anonymized public feelings of people all over the world. People’s most private feelings are public at the same time, particular while global, acquiring new meanings by being remixed into a large lump of similar data, becoming small and large pieces of customizable, collective art works.
It’s interaction design is also very refreshing. Instead of opting for your standard search queries, Jonathan has created a beautiful, animated, organic interface which reacts to your every movement, making it feel very lively and yet unobtrusive. Every time I open the applet, I feel myself drawn to all the floating particles, endlessly combining options and diving deeper. This is without a doubt a very addictive, playful interface which is at the same time very efficient at unlocking the power of the underlying database. It’s not very intuitive and definitely requires some instructions or learning before opening it, but it’s a small learning curve and is well worth the trouble.
The interface is built as a Java applet, and all visualisations are done via the Open Source Processing scripting language. While the applet is obviously the most important aspect, the creators also added some social features. There’s a gallery which allows you to save interesting images and send them by mail. It also shows the most sent, most saved and featured “montages” as they’re called, and thus provides a sort of best-of.
Last but not least, We Feel Fine also provides an API, which allows you to build query its database and build mash-ups. Strangely enough, the first mashup has yet to appear, as a quick search yielded no results.
There’s an interesting interview with Jonathan Harris on the efforts and thougths that went into We Feel Fine, and the rationale between the particle system, which is the metaphor behind most of the movements. Also, don’t miss the excellent presentation Jonathan did at TED: Jonathan Harris: The Web’s secret storie, which gives a very nice overview of the complete application and the philosophy behind it.
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