27 August 2009

[design] Personas: Data Mining As Graphic Design

2199.Something that should be meaty food for thought for everyone who communicates online is available for a time. It's called Personas (http://personas.media.mit.edu/personasWeb.html). It's a crit of "data mining", which is not only the way places like Google and Amazon and Netflix are able to make a list of suggestions of things you might otherwise like, but also how certain agencies make up lists of people to watch out for. In following a data mining strategem to compose a composite picture of where your activity online takes you, it suggests an awful lot about data mining's strengths – and speaks loudly indeed about it's weaknesses.

You put in your name, and get an interesting show while it crunches the data.

Here's what I got for putting in the name "Samuel Klein":



(embiggen it thusly) It's an interesting picture, no? The labels are suggestive of assumed categories of relevant interest based on textual analysis, and the size of the colored zones are weighted according to the amount of activity in each thing.

But this doesn't quite picture Samuel Klein – me – very well. Of course, I just put in the name "Samuel Klein"; it didn't know I was meaning me, and as it turns out, there's an armload of Samuel Klein on the web (including a prominent Wikipedian as well as a leading obesity doctor).

So I put in the name Samuel John Klein in the query box and let it go. So far as I can detect, there's only one Samuel John Klein who uses the intermets in any notable degree. Here's what it came up with:



(embiggen this thusly) Now, this is more like it. I'm online a lot. I think about art and design about as much as I'm online. I don't know what the 7734 "aggression" is supposed to mean.

But that's the point, I think. Notice the way the result changed when I refined the query. The second one is a better picture of me, but I had to think to put in my medial moniker. Notice the amazing amount of interests Personas thinks I have – but actually, how would it know for sure? The code has never met me. The coder has never met me.

What does it say about me? In the end, how can one be sure?

And this is the state of the art of how "the net", as an automaton, creates an "online picture" of just one person. The thing is a tool – but those who use the tool is what makes the difference.

Like I said, food for thought. If you love being on line as much as I do, It'll make you think for a while.

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