Taking the emotional temperature of the world

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I feel very jealous, but also excited. Every so often, okay very often, someone makes a piece of interactive work that I really, really wish I had created. More often than not these days Jonathan Harris is behind such objects of desire. I absolutely loved TenByTen and WordCount for their insights into humanity.

Now Harris and Sepandar Kamvar have just launched two projects they have been working on for a long time called Lovelines and We Feel Fine. They both deal with human feelings by mining data scraped from thousands of blogs.

From Jonathan’s site he explains the system:

Every few minutes, the system searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the “feeling” expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.

The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 – 20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices, offering responses to specific questions like: do Europeans feel sad more often than Americans? Do women feel fat more often than men? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? What are the most representative feelings of female New Yorkers in their 20s? What do people feel right now in Baghdad? What were people feeling on Valentine’s Day? Which are the happiest cities in the world? The saddest?

We Feel Fine - particle interface

It is very addictive and I keep coming back and looking for different ‘flavours’. The best part about it all is that the interface is delicious. It’s both intuitive – a kind of particle system that is very interactive with the mouse – and playful. The attention to interactive detail is excellent and it’s a joy just to noodle around. This, combined with the content, is utterly compelling.

I feel slightly guilty somehow, nosing in on all these personal thoughts, but then they’re all published online for the world to see so I suppose that’s the point. If anyone has ever seen Wim Wenders’ film, Wings of Desire(or Himmel über Berlin in German) they’ll get a similar feeling to the angels that tuned into the city dwellers’ thoughts.

It’s gratifying to see a playful interactive work that is also insightful, giving us fresh perspective on the human condition without turning into a totally self-indulgant art-wank piece as is often the case. It deserves many accolades and visitors.