EnemyGraph Facebook Application

UPDATE: you can follow the trending & top enemies on enemygraph.com and my ongoing comments on the project on twitter. For press see bottom of this post.

For the past six months my research group has been looking into an app that explores social dissonance on Facebook. Today we are announcing the public release of EnemyGraph. The project was developed principally by graduate student Bradley Griffith with invaluable help from undergraduate Harrison Massey.

EnemyGraph is an application that allows you to list your “enemies”. Any Facebook friend or user of the app can be an enemy. More importantly, you can also make any page or group on Facebook an “enemy”. This covers almost everything including people, places and things. During our testing testing triangles and q-tips were trending, along with politicians, music groups, and math.

Most social networks attempt to connect people based on affinities: you like a certain band or film or sports team, I like them, therefore we should be friends. But people are also connected and motivated by things they dislike. Alliances are created, conversations are generated, friendships are stressed, stretched, and/or enhanced.

Facebook runs queries to find affinities. EnemyGraph runs what we call dissonance queries. So if you have said you like, say, Portlandia on your profile page, and in our app one of your friends has declared them an “enemy” we will post this “dissonance report” in the app. In other words we point out a difference you have with a friend and offer it up for conversation, as opposed to a similarity. Relationships always include differences, and often these differences are a critical part of the fabric of a friendship. In the country club atmosphere of Facebook and it’s platform such differences are ignored. It’s not part of their “social philosophy”.

EnemyGraph is a critique the social philosophy of Facebook. On it’s developer splash page Facebook invites us to “Hack the Graph” - and so we did. We give them a couple of weeks at best before they shut us down for broadening the conversation and for “utilizing community, building conversation, and curating identity” their three elements of social design. EnemyGraph is a kind of social media blasphemy.

The ironic thing is - and this is a byproduct of the project rather than the intention - we are generating a whole new set of personal data that could potentially be mined. I found it a compelling tool for self expression, at least as powerful as the likes list on your Facebook profile page. Often, it tells you a great deal about a person in a way that an affirmative list can not. The first thing my colleague Dave Parry though of to list, for example, was venison, which says a lot by itself.

I’m sure there are new algorithms that can be developed around what you can sell some one when they don’t like X or Y, and conversely what they will like, what kind of person they are, etc. Or, similar to an idea Clive Thompson mentioned to me, find out what I might like or dislike based on a set of dislikes I share with others. We’ve thought about it and think there’s actually a positive social value in all this. Alliances between people around social and political issues are one thing. There are also interesting ways to connect to people that you never would have known by affinities alone. The group that has made venison an enemy might have never encountered one another. And of course there are also likely ways to structure business around it (which is why Andrew Famiglietti thinks maybe Facebook will leave EnemyGraph up, even while they hold their nose). But our interest for this project is a simple, expressive, often fun critique of the lopsided Facebook approach to online mediated social interaction.

A few people have asked us about the potential for misuse. Beyond the obvious fact that every tool can be misused ours is all opt in. Also, based on our test group, it’s also mostly in jest. (I’ve been to top enemy among my friends all through testing). If you are not friends with someone, or not a user of the app, or generally not famous, you cannot be listed as an “enemy”. We will also monitor the app closely for abuse.

Because of the fact that you can make pretty much any object, place, or thing that has a FB page an “enemy” EnemyGraph is in some ways an unfortunate name. So it’s not just a list of people. In fact you can have an entire list with no people on it at all. In a way we are misusing the word “enemy” just as much as Facebook and others have misused “friend”.

One early user described EnemyGraph as a way to “interact with your friends over common enemies … creating alliances based on shared animosities”.

How the project was made:
When I saw the first friends list at the beginning of the social media era the first thing I thought was “where’s the enemies list?” No one ever made one, so we did. We actually started out working on something called UnFriends. It was in the aftermath of undetweetable, which generated plenty of attention, but was shut down by Twitter in 5 days. After coming across some language from Facebook saying an app cannot encourage unfriending we decided to shelve what was nearing a finished application. We knew it would last only a day or so. So we moved on to what at first we called EnemyList, which was just that simple. Once we figured out you could add any FB page it became EnemyGraph - playing off “social graph”. The project was developed almost entirely by Bradley Griffith over the course of a few months, with invaluable research help from Harrison Massey. Bradley is an Emerging Media + Communication (EMAC) graduate student and Harrison is an undergraduate.

As to how it fits in with the research agenda of my lab, we look at EnemyGraph as a test to learn from for the new project we are about to start on for this semester. Because these kinds of tools have not been available previously we are interested to see how they are used. We plan to take what we learn and apply it to an outside of Facebook site that explores similar territory, but in a broader fashion.


PRESS Updates:
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Los Angeles Times
Daily Mail UK
San Francisco Chronicle

Emotion Recognition Research

Starting this semester my team has begun looking at emotion recognition technology. This is a funded research project with one of our outside partners. The core technology is from a colleague’s team in computer science, building off open source research. Our team is looking at the creative potential and privacy implications. Every technology can be exploited creatively, and experimental takes on emerging technology often offer perspectives on social impacts that were not obvious during the technical research stages. 

What we hope to do is create an application that calls attention to this emerging technology and educates us a bit about how it might affect our lives in the near future.

As a side note, one of the things we’ve found initially is that all the training for the systems is done by volunteers basically making faces. The thing is, they can’t act. So what is happening, in effect, is that emotion recognition systems are being trained to detect fake emotions. My thought here would be to a) make people feel the emotions for real: make them laugh, etc. scare the sh*t out of them, or b) hire Daniel Day Lewis and have him go through all the emotions.

Today we are launching undetweetable.com. It is a site that collects deleted tweets. Anyone can enter any twitter user in the database and it will start tracking their tweets that otherwise would have been deleted.

The project was created over the summer by graduate student Bradley Griffith in MobileLab, a research group in the Emerging Media + Communication (EMAC) program at UT Dallas.

Undetweetable is part art project, part curatorial effort, and part social media experiment. It’s the first in a series of new experimental projects from the lab that explore explore issues of identity, pseudonymity/anonymity, data ownership, authorship, and privacy. These are areas Brad and I are both interested in, and undetweetable exposes some aspects of them for people to experience for themselves directly.

The initial idea came from a desire to “collect” things on the Internet, exactly like a regular collector except things that could only be gathered online. For one year I ran a fictional character on twitter that had a small collection of such things, particularly things with emotional resonance. Collecting errors and regrettable outbursts seemed compelling, if somewhat nefarious (as was the character’s nature). Then as I was thinking about data ownership and privacy the idea popped up again in discussions with Bradley Griffith. He liked it, took it on over the summer and did all the development that is now undetweetable.com

At launch we are letting it bounce against the world to see what happens. Part of me thinks it’s an awful idea. Part of me thinks it will create a lot of interesting, even heated discussion (which  already happened in our very limited private release). As a creative project, it is in progress, and is released as is, to be further iterated on as people use it and provide feedback.

One of the interesting things I noticed as Brad was developing it over the last couple of months is that I thought very carefully about deleting a tweet, which in turn made pressing send when composing one much less casual than before. Everything felt more permanent. Posting should feel permanent, but of course it doesn’t. And that’s the point. I’ve always wanted to create something that made people feel more tension when hitting “send” on a social network. This seems to work.

Tangentially, I also started worrying about my future deleted tweet stream: was it good enough? Would it be interesting? Would it form an alternate universe of tweets, an alter ego of sorts (like I need another one of those…).

Then I thought what if we created an account or character where all the tweets were deleted? That’s what we decided to do with our own twitter account @undetweetable, so to see the updates you’ll have to go to our deleted tweets page.  I also thought about creating a fictional character that only “lived” in a deleted tweet universe. Hmmm.

Again the point of the experiment is to learn more about what we think and, just as important, feel about these things. To see what others think and feel. It is an education project after all, and I’m hoping that Brad & I learn, along with others, more about the issues we were interested in touching on through the illustration we have developed in Undetweetable.

Lastly I want to credit Brad with his tireless, excellent work on this project. It would only be a tiny blur of a thought in the mind of a fake twitter account if it weren’t for his efforts.

For several weeks now I’ve been (half) joking on twitter that I’d like to have a way to have my network data objects decay and fade, if not distort and become unreliable. I’ve also talked about the idea of fake data trails, where a network of bots creates false locations, friends, transactions, in order to mislead those who would use my information for their own ends. I’ll return to the second idea in another post, but here I’ll flesh out the first one. This post sketches out the idea of intentional unreliability.

So the first question is this: when everyone is continuously looking for ways to secure their data, to make it more reliable, authoritative, to reduce noise & spam, why would I want to introduce less reliability and additional noise? Because I want to be the one that determines how reliable or unreliable my information is. And because much of the information about us out there festering in databases is unreliable - I want to manage my unreliability. (And yes I understand this is mostly impossible, like controlling the weather, but read on).

We are used to the idea that physical media objects like books and CD’s are not mutable over time. I can’t change a word or a note of something that has been published in the analog realm. Some of this expectation carries over unexamined into our relationship with networked digital media objects that we create.  We are still adapting to the idea of dynamic media objects, ones that change over time, either by being updated with new information, multiple authorship, or other means. What I want to be able to do is to create objects that have a life to them, with parameters I can set either by myself or in concert with others.

Data Effects

A loose analogy is one of adding audio effects to an audio track, a vocal track for example. You can add equalization, reverb, pitch correction, and so on. The source sound is non destructively altered and the effects can be automated and changed as needed. Similarly, for data, I’d like to be able to add controls that allow my information to change over time. I want bugs in my own information.

These data effects would allow information to decay, to be fallible, like memory. It would allow  some control over how data lives in the network over time, frustrating efforts of those who would use it for commercial purposes, for example. So Instead of my information becoming some else’s market intelligence, it becomes market disinformation. I become: just not worth it.

Expressive Parameters

So if there were an app for this, following our audio analogy, the app would have faders like on a mixing board. The faders would set parameters for pieces of data, like a photo, pdf, tweet, or blog post and control parameters like:

Decay  -  amount of deterioration of the object over time. So an image would start to have random noise appear in it, a text file might have random characters and words appear (for example: 10% over 6 months, or 100% over 2 years, etc.).

Unreliability / Distortion  -  % chance that the object will fail to load or appear, or that parts of it will be damaged or gone altogether. (for example: Object x has a 4.4% chance of failing to load/appear and 18% chance that 6% of it will be damaged, etc.).

Unpredictability  -  An idea borrowed loosely from particle physics: % chance that the object will show up somewhere else, on a different server / service / site, or that its specifications will change. . It may do things like blow up in size, from 4 MB to 2 GB. If an image, it may scale way up or way down, or show an entirely the image at random.

Fade  -  this is more for images and video, how long it twill take for the image to fade to  a certain % of white or black. It could even fade to another image with a statement, logo, link, etc. It could fade to a default image that said something like “this image has been forgotten”, for example. Or it could result in a data shroud, with a slight impression of the former image.

There is no application, of course, and this is mostly a way of making a point via absurdity. That said, If I had my way, something like this would be built deep into various standards, platforms, and filetypes. None of this will ever happen but it gets me thinking about a potential class of objects that have a kind of remote control, or generative properties that we set, either as individuals or in groups.

I don’t just want technical control, I want expressive control over my information. My unreliability will have style.

[switch to 720p / HD for best results] 

Just got the Korg WaveDrum today - here’s the 1st thing I played after finding an interesting patch (which I’d never use in a recording or soundtrack). Not sure if I like this thing. It’s certainly sensitive, but also very percussion oriented. If I can program it away from its inherent conga-ness and maybe run it through some pedals I may keep it. Another week or two will tell.

the best fiction films of 2010 were (not) documentaries*

Two thirds of them anyway. Seriously though, the most compelling experiences I had in the theater this year in 2010 involved three films, all of which are fictional, two of which were labeled as documentaries.

I saw a good many films in 2010, mostly on Friday nights at the latest possible screening. Most of them were disappointing. But not Winters Bone, I’m Still Here, and Exit Through the Gift Shop. Catfish also deserves a mention in this bunch.

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone was authentic and overwhelming. It did what few films are really capable of, though many try: it puts you firmly in the place of the protagonist. Though usually solo, I saw this film with a friend. We sat in an otherwise empty Pasadena art house theater, eyes riveted to the screen. We left shaken, but better for it. I marvel at Granik’s ability to create such a rich tone and elicit deeply felt performances. Winter’s Bone deserves to win the Oscar for best picture, direction, and lead actress.

The other two films, billed as documentaries, were nothing of the sort, but I expected that. In fact I relished it. The two most exciting nights I spent at the theater in 2010 were preceded by anticipation of being gloriously duped. It is a rare and distinct pleasure to witness the specific machinations of a first class mockumentary.

Exit Through the Gift Shop was a tricky, layered critique of the art world. Similarly, I’m Still Here was a hilarious jab at fame and Hollywood. Much has been written about these two films and their status as documentary or fiction, but I want to ask one thing: Why can’t professional critics tell when something is fictional? Most critics reviewed them as they were labeled: documentary. Any professional critic who saw I’m Still Here and thought it real after 5 minutes needs to quit the business. Looking at the reviews, we’d have a lot fewer critics. If you were a young film star sitting around with friends drinking, thinking up shenanigans for a film hoax, you would think up I’m Still Here. It’s pretty easy to imagine the soggy napkin with the scenes scribbled out. Movie star goes off the rails, does drugs, tries to be a hip hop artist, berates his assistant, grows a Morrison-like beard, etc etc. The amazing thing is Joaquin Phoenix’s near year long performance and the Letterman appearance. Name another actor of his stature willing to go to such lengths. I saw it opening night with about 35 people when its veracity was still in question and the place was roiling with laughter. Both Exit and I’m Still Here should be nominated for best picture and Joaquin Phoenix should win best male actor.

I just saw Catfish last night, and will reserve detailed comment for a future post, but it does deserve a mention in this mix. Not reading about it beforehand I expected the film to be fake. But it is a hybrid, and an exciting if troubling one. Exciting because it experiments with the fiction / non fiction line in interesting ways, ways that the film makers themselves are reticent to celebrate or even admit. Troubling because of the probable manipulation of the subjects. We are a long way from the (impossible) claims of Direct Cinema here. I’m pretty sure the first half of the film was reenacted, or just acted, while the second part was likely shot first. But none of this matters.

Whether films labeled as documentaries are “true” or not is a question we are well beyond, in my view. Like subjective and objective, these are conceptual categories whose premises we have outgrown. And maybe the television, movie, and net media we consume has blunted our ability to discern the fabricated from the (mostly) real.  At the same time, there is a difference between acted and non acted material. In I’m Still Here most professional critics could not tell that it was acted. In Catfish, there are those who can’t see that the main subject is a real person and others who do not question whether the first part of the film is pretend. I don’t care how fiction / nonfiction is labeled, used in a story, or mixed with its opposite. I am concerned that no-one seems to be able to tell the difference, especially critics. Or maybe I’m excited by it. This is a happy confusion, a blessed befuddlement, and one that enables creative opportunities. And that, I think, is all that matters.

Sample in-progress pages from experimental book project. This is the left and right page seen together. The unfortunate thing about most electronic book formats is they assume you only want to see one page at a time. If you design a book visually based on the assumption that you can see two pages at once, then an electronic version will not work. This demands creating an ebook where each page is really two, or an app (iPad, etc.) which is unfortunate.

I’ve started to compile images and text for a book-like project based on 1800 posts from a fictional twitter account. I have all the text sources I’ll need, some ideas about image strategies, but am stuck at typography, which I have limited facility with. I’m pretty sure each page will be some combination of full bleed image and large text. The problem is finding interesting ways to present the text in varied ways while preserving continuity. The sample image here works for me in terms of the photo and it’s relation to the words, but I very much dislike the way the text inhabits the page (composition, fonts, transparency, etc). Your ideas are welcome.