Assessment 1: Online Analysis into Case Study

“I have a problem I’m sure many other bloggers face; I am perfectly comfortable sharing intimate details about my emotions with complete strangers I meet online but shy away from expressing my true feelings to anyone I know in real life.”

– a woman in Maine

We Feel Fine is a data mining project that collates human feelings from the World Wide Web. Described by its creators as “an exploration of human emotion on a global scale”, the site provides its users with an insight into the human psyche that is so far unseen in the digital world.In short, a data collection engine conducts searches of the web’s latest blogs for incidences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. It does this approximately every ten minutes and when it identifies a phrase, the entire sentence is ‘harvested’. The “feelings” can be explored, sorted and analysed by the viewer using the We Feel Fine applet, accessed via clicking on the “Open We Feel Fine” button clearly and conveniently located to the right-hand-side of the home page, seen above.

The engine is able to add up to 20,000 new feelings every day, and as each sentence is stored the system is able to detect the particular “feelings” they express. Any photos that accompany the blog posts are also saved and can be viewed by the user. The intelligence of the system is so developed that it can extract the age, gender and location of the author. It can even identify local weather conditions.

Once the applet is opened, the user is invited to explore “six movements”. These are essentially six different interfaces that allow visitors of the site to uncover stored “feelings” in various ways. The user can quite simply navigate themselves between movements by scrolling over the heart in the bottom left-hand corner of the applet at which point a simple list of the interfaces appears. As well as this, the “feelings” are made easy to distinguish with use of different colours for each.

Madness – mass of particles bouncing around, each representing a single feeling. Designed to mimic the madness of the human world, particles can be clicked at any time to reveal the sentence or photograph inside.

Murmurs – sentences appear letter-by-letter like they are being typed by the author and fade to black as new sentences appear.

Montage - what do feelings look like? By clicking on the thumbnails the user can view photographs from blogs with "I feel" phrases.


Mobs – shows the most common feelings of the sample population.

Metrics – shows the most salient or representative traits of the sample population.

Mounds – measures the frequency of feelings found in the database (the bigger the mound, the higher the frequency)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the crux of this project is the ability to reveal fascinating information and statistics about how people feel from certain countries, cities, age groups on particular days of the year. This is enabled by The Panel located at the top of the applet.

The Panel - this is how the user controls the sample population that is shown on the screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When clicked, drop-down type menus appear and the user can constrain the population shown by the following axes:

  • Feeling
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weather
  • Location
  • Date

Hit the “Find Feelings” button in the bottom right corner and you’re on your way!

By utilizing these axes, the project can answer questions such as:

  • Do women feel fat more often than men?
  • Does rainy weather affect how we feel?
  • Which are the happiest cities in the world?

Aside from the trivial, the applet acts as a useful method of recording the human experience. It is, fundamentally, a historical collection unlike any other. Imagine being able to analyse how people in West Germany felt when the Berlin Wall fell? Or how people in New York felt on the day of the 9/11 attacks? The project has only been operating since 2005 but, no doubt, will be a compelling source of information for the momentous historical events of the future.

Although the project is primarily online-based, Harris & Kamvar have also transferred their ‘favourites’ from the collection into a book that is sold on Amazon. The data is, effectively, a story of what it’s like to be human so I can understand how the concept could work as a flip-through, coffee table book.

Created prior to the rise of the iPhone, iPad and the mobile ‘app’ platform, I would be interested to see if project can be transferred to into an application format. With the use of satellite technology, one could receive information about how people in certain areas are feeling. If I am house hunting in an area where people predominantly feel violent, I think I would like to know! Accessibility to data collection along these lines would be extremely useful.

We Feel Fine also has a Facebook and Twitter account, both of which are currently inactive. I believe this is mostly because these were used to promote the launch of the book, not so much the applet itself as there are no links to these pages from the project site. I can envisage, however, that Twitter followers would engage or appreciate quirky statues/tweets about “what most people are feeling today”, as would those on Facebook. Updating the project site with links to such pages, and maintaining statuses/tweets would regenerate visitation to the site and perhaps increase book sales.

Undoubtedly, the web has expanded dramatically over the past decade; there is significantly more content available and the nature of that content is becoming increasingly diverse. It is a larger place than it was in the 90s, it is more immediate and it is more social. There are people on Facebook, people on live messaging, bloggers, professional writers, buyers, sellers, groups, pages, and videos. The list is endless. The web is endless. And this makes it a relatively untouched resource of human interaction. We Feel Fine attempts to capture this and does so in a very successful manner.

Traditionally, data mining and information retrieval has been primarily focused on queries and documents. Alternatively, Jonathan Harris and computer engineer Sep Kamvar have sought to create a program that focuses on the people behind the queries and documents. By merging elements of computer science, anthropology, visual art and storytelling, they have produced a social experiment that entirely re-imagines how humans relate to technology and also to each other.

Inspired by techniques used by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen in their installation project Listening Post, We Feel Fine scans blog posts from a variety of online sources, such as LiveJournal, MySpace and Google amongst other social media outlets. It is because of this that, in essence, We Feel Fine is an artwork made by everyone, for everyone.

According to Harris, We Feel Fine “will grow and change as we grow and change, reflecting what’s on our blogs, what’s in our hearts, what’s in our minds.” As the user views and interacts with the “feelings”, they undergo their own experience of reflection on the world around them, and, consequently, are provoked to reflect on themselves. The project, it seems, is just as much about the user as it is about the data collected. As they explore the site’s interfaces, the user is reassured of the shared human experience; no matter what they feel, it’s likely that there are a number of people around the world that feel the same.

“We hope it makes the world seem a little smaller, and we hope it helps people see beauty in the everyday ups and downs of life.”
– Jonathan Harris

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About Jessica Hynes

This globe-trotter has spent the last few years travelling the world in search beautiful landscapes, good food and even better wine. From Nepal’s highest peaks to Bolivia’s salt flats, Jess has an undying appreciation for nature. A born and bred Sydneysider, she has a close connection with the ocean and is passionate about protecting it.
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4 Responses to Assessment 1: Online Analysis into Case Study

  1. Jess –

    I like your choice of website, and the way you’ve set out your analysis.

    I agree that We Feel Fine is a collection of history unlike any other. Where else can we cultivate the collective emotions of people on any given day? Not only is it, as you’ve said, fascinating, but so is the ability to study feelings from different genders, age groups – and even weather patterns.

    What I want to know is – will they make an alternate language site in future? From what I saw, most ‘feelings’ seemed to be US-based, in fact I only say three from Australia. Surely they could set the website up to scan for alternate translations of ‘I feel’ and ‘I am feeling’. I’d also like to see variations of the website – for example, an applet that scans for blog posts including ‘I love’, ‘I hate’ or ‘I am’.

    I very much enjoyed the visual basis for ‘We Feel Fine’. Rather than just keep the main page of the applet text (like on the ‘murmurs’ section – which bore several likenesses to Twitter), the makers have harnessed a series of coloured dots that cluster together at the touch of your mouse.

    Although, I did have to wonder what kind of regulations there were on the site. What is there to prevent ‘unsavoury’ pieces of information filling the site? I even stumbled across a person describing suspicious bleeding after their hysterectomy!

    Furthermore, as an English nerd, I really despised the elimination of punctuation! This also changed the meaning of some of the ‘feelings’.

    I like how you have given a description into the way the site works, and what the user can expect. I also think that the series of captioned pictures you have featured is a useful and captivating blogging tool. I agree that this website only has a matter of time before it is transformed into a mobile app.

    Overall, a great analysis on a website that more people should know about.

  2. thetruegem says:

    Well, what an interesting idea for an online documentary! I found this website is easy to navigate generally, but at first I had trouble finding the return button (when I clicked on the link, the page came as a new window on my laptop). I actually found myself addicted to just exploring the comments on every page. I agree with your argument that this website represents a history.. and definitely a resource on exploring the human emotion and interaction across a range of generations. However, with the ever increasing developments in social media, I wonder if this online documentary will become vulnerable to ‘tweeters’ who just want to vent out their problems. I would like to know how the comments published online are regulated.

    Your analysis offers a thorough break down of the elements of design, platform choice and audience. It would be really interesting though to compare your analysis with another coming from the opposite gender, so see if similar arguments evolve.

  3. arilee123 says:

    Hi Jessica

    I really think the premise of We Feel Fine is amazing. This project in particular really captures Jonathan Harris’ fascination with using the Internet and technology to better understand the human collective. I found his Number 27 blog, where We Feel Fine can be found, to be pretty inspiring – to have such a clear vision and dedicate all your works to this would be fantastic. You always have a blueprint to experiment with.

    Anyway, I thought the 6 different ‘feelings’ were thought out really well. Of course, ‘Madness’ is a favourite, the idea of different coloured feelings bouncing off the walls is so good, and particularly so when controlling The Panel, and seeing the dots minimise to reveal only a few specific feelings that are most likely relevant to you, or at least what you searched for. The preliminary interface, pink colour palette and typeface didnt really enhance the aesthetic or concept of the project for me unfortunately, thought I do understand the need for simplicity with such an exhaustive subject matter.

    Which leads me to my next thought. Although fascinating to begin with, especially when using The Panel, the anonymous and characterless feelings became slightly uninteresting after a while, especially as some of them were undecipherable due to a lack of punctuation. I suppose this is the crucial factor of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, being able to fit a feeling to a person, and the ability to enhance the image you have constructed for that person. Not sure, maybe it’s just me and my short attention span.

    But I did really enjoy your comprehensive analysis and well thought out blog.

  4. lukeequivalent says:

    What an interesting example of what ‘documentary’ can mean online. I think one really innovative part of this project is the approach to ‘user generated content’.

    Many media institutes and brands that create projects with user generated content strictly define what is acceptable for submission. This can be according the the theme of their site, or according to the perspective of their brand they are trying to promote. You see a lot of these projects staying fairly vacant because people don’t want to contribute their creativity to the creator’s purpose. There are examples where this approach does work, like the ABC Open project (http://open.abc.net.au/), where they have set the scope broad enough, giving people space to create what they want to. There is also the attraction of your creation being promoted by a much bigger website, I think that helps too in that case.

    Harris on the other hand has very cleverly opened what is acceptable, and in fact doesn’t have to wait around for people to contribute to his project, it just gets mined off their site. Instead of getting content on a certain topic, he is searching of type of content ’emotional content’, and the beauty of it is the variety. It is like applying a filter to twitter just to see emotional tweets, in fact that is basically what this is, a big filter that captures online content of a certain nature. A simple idea, ut framed very elegantly by the producers to create a story. I’ll stop rambling.

    I’m interested to know if the people who’s content has been mined aware that it is being republished here?

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