30 April 2009
I'm not exactly a prolific Twitterer. In fact, I'm even behind Oprah in the updates count. But the beauty of Twitter isn't just the sound of a single voice. Its beauty is the cacophony of the masses – a sea of voices that gently washes over you and allows you to savour the zeitgeist in 140 character canapes.
The situations where I find this ambience most useful is anytime there's a dense conglomeration of people – meetups, conferences, concerts, public rallies, pub crawls – Twitter can help you observe these scenes from halfway around the world. But it's even more interesting when you're there, surrounded by the noise of physical and virtual. Particularly at conferences, Twitter gives a voice to an audience who for many years have played a subservient role to those who were officially there to speak. But who says they have less to say?
At Web Directions 2008, I set myself the aim of bringing these subdued conversations to the attention of the audience, and so I wrote a Twitter visualiser designed for the big screen. Something with big,
f@#! off readable letters you could see from the other side of the room. Something you could glance at mid-conversation, rather than tethering your finger to the refresh button of an iPhone.
There's a few Twitter visualisers out there, but with the exception of Twistori, I'd hardly say that any of them were particularly pleasing to the eye. So that was my secondary goal – make a seductive bit of eye candy. It kind of worked. And even went so far as to steal Mark Pesce's thunder in his closing keynote. (By his own choice.)
After six months, I've managed to robustify and productionamify my original code, and along the way I've added a couple more visualisations to the original concept of "blowing leaves".
It's now up at visibletweets.com for anyone to use and I hope that at your next get-together you'll be able to hook it up to a big screen and make some conversation with robots.
I'll be endeavouring to continue development of this mini-application with new visualisation modes and features (such as permalinking), so stay tuned to @visibletweets for updates. Let me know if you're using it as well, or have any ideas/bugs.
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