Project Description

Every time we search the web, we reveal glimpses into our mental and emotional lives. Our search terms and “click-throughs” are recorded and compiled into dossiers of our innermost desires. What we search for online reveals a great deal about our identities — usually more than we intend to share with the outside world.

When AOL released the web searches of over 650,000 of its users in 2006, researchers and journalists quickly discovered that specific individuals can be identified by their search terms alone. Your searches on Google or Yahoo, taken together, can be used to identify who you are.

Search Explorer (working title) is an interactive, dynamic visualization of web searches made by AOL users over three months in 2006. The project is being developed using Processing and MySQL.

The primary goals of this project are to:

The video above illustrates the current state of the project, which includes a single user-centric visualization. The completed project will also include:

Ethical considerations: There are legitimate concerns with using data that contain personal information. Yet the goal of this project is not to expose or embarrass any one individual; it is to make a larger statement about privacy and identity in a digital world, and the final design will reflect that sensitivity. Thoughtful public discussion on these issues is rare and should be welcomed and encouraged.

The project has been submitted to Rhizome's 2009 commissions process for consideration. Submit your vote at the bottom of this page.

Production Timeline and Budget

Since a functional prototype has already been built, the remainder of the project could be completed in a few months' part-time work.

I have provided budgets for three different scenarios, listed with the most desirable on top. Ideally, the project would be installed in a physical space and also be accessible online.

Option A: Gallery Installation (Touch Interface)

Artist's fee (covers time and expenses) $2,000
Philips-Elo 32" touch screen 1,935
Custom-configured Mac Mini computer 700
Display wall mount 119
Estimated electricity costs (1 year) 25
Total for Option A $4,779

Option B: Gallery Installation (Mouse Interface)

Artist's fee $2,000
Custom-configured Mac Mini computer 700
1 mouse 49
Estimated electricity costs (1 year) 5
Total for Option B $2,754

Option C: Web-Only

Artist's fee $2,000
Custom database and web hosting (1 year) 500
Total for Option C $2,500

Résumé and Recent Work

View Scott Murray's résumé >

ASCII Photo Booth — February 23, 2008 — installation with display, mouse, webcam, and laser printer

Play video >

An interactive “booth” in which participants had their pictures taken, translated into black-and-white ASCII characters. Live video was rendered on-screen as text, while the final image was output to the laser printer. Participants then left the gallery with a physical artifact: an original portrait of themselves. Featured in the ASCII Art Show at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. More info...

Anticipation Study — February 2008 — Java applet

Launch project >

My first project using Processing, this study uses elements of anticipation (instead of words or traditional GUI elements) to guide the user through the interface.

Related Resources

Existing Interfaces to the AOL Data

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