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April 14, 2005

where do we go from here?

Ben and I have been talking at length about the next step for the gates memory project. We came up with three ideas briefly outlined below. We decided to open up our internal conversation to our readers. Please let us know what you think.

Unless we actively engage them, memories fade.

We've now collected over 3,000 photographs of the Gates in Flickr. Let's try to imagine an interface that captures the perishability of memory and at the same time gives a compelling reason to interact - i.e. if you don't, it will all disappear.

This could work in many ways. Here are two:

1. Rating

Visitors could watch a random slideshow of the archive. Next to each picture there would be sliding meter between "remember" and "forget." If you love the photo you will slide it to the top. If you hate the photo, you will slide it all the way down to forget. Most will choose somewhere in the middle. These actions will be registered on some sort of visualization of the entire archive - a grid, say, with every photo arranged as a small tile. Depending on visitors' actions during the slideshow, some tiles will be brighter than others. Some will have paled slightly, some will be very faded out, and some will have disappeared altogether. The more people visit, the more nuanced this memory map will become, and photos will fluctuate in and out of memory. You can either let it go on indefinitely, or eventually freeze it and voila: your lasting, definitive document.

2. Half Life

This is about imbuing the archive with a sense of decay and steady erosion. The archive is fading away and can only be held onto if people interact with it. It's not so much about rating individual components as keeping contact with the collective. Like a bit torrent, as soon as people abandon it, it dies.

Archives as landscape: this interface allows visitors to "play" with the images to build a collective work of art that reconstructs the Gates photo archives as virtual pathways.

We would turn each of the 3,000+ Gates photos into a tile which can be dragged and dropped onto a surface/screen that is scrollable horizontally and vertically. The object of the game is to layout a string of photos that connect to each other like dominos. Orange bleeding off the side of a photo = a possible connection. Visitors look for images that begin where the last one left off. These progressions can proceed vertically, horizontally or diagonally, growing and spreading as visitors search the archives, finding new connections and adding new tiles. We could also allow users to "edit" the collage, replacing existing photos with better photos.

The Result: threads that build and ribbon across the space will form a kind of virtual memory of movement through the Gates. The landscape of our collage can be examined close up or far away, using a zoom function. Zooming out gives you an aerial view of the Gates, zooming in allows you to see it on the ground level.

We would like to ask guest editors to review the photo archives and select pictures that exemplify a single, specific idea about the Gates. Each editor will have something different to say. Our hope is that a multifaceted understanding of the Gates project will emerge when the various viewpoints are seen/read together.

For the guest editor project, Ben feels strongly, and I agree that this should take place on on our existing blog rather than on a new one. The guest editor project could be a distinct thread on the Gates blog, or it could take over the entire blog (I lean towards the latter). To get the project going, guest editors should send an email to Ben or to me with the contents of their blog post (text and links to the photos they want posted) and we will post it for them. If the project mushrooms and we get several submissions a day, we should talk to Kalina about building a form field for submissions.

Another way to go is to utilize Flickr's "my favorites" function, which allows users to create a page with their favorite photos. We could ask Gates visitors to make a page of favorites and we could create a gallery space on our website to display clickable thumbnails of these pages. The only problem with this option is that the favorites function does not have a space to write commentary, so this would be a strictly visual commentary.

Bob's thoughts
i love the Rating concept -- especially if we could make it work like the baby name site

half-life is interesting, but not clear to me why the archive should die if no one looks at it for awhile -- a key rationale of an archive is to counter ephemerality

the game is OK, but seems forced and a bit trivial as it only draws on the geometry of the photos; i.e. an interesting exercise but not clear what importance it elucidates re:The Gates as a work of art.

agree that if we do the guest photo editor -- which i still think we should because that can be started immediately, while we develop other ideas such as the Rating meter -- that it should be on the existing gates memory blog.

Dan says:
2. Half Life
I like the idea of this. But how do you make something like information-death tangible on the Internet? The internet's made information cheap: we feel like even if one website dies, someone will have a copy somewhere. (This isn't always true, of course - despite the efforts of, a lot of the internet did prove ephemeral.) How would we do this with Flickr images if a) the images don't belong (a loaded word) to us, and b) they're on Flickr already?

SECOND IDEA: Archives as landscape:
This wouldn't be hard to do - there are a lot of slide puzzles done in Java or JavaScript & we could pull the code apart until it suited our purposes. Is this, though, the sort of project that might be done best by a computer program, then edited by hand? Or maybe have a computer program that does it algorithmically side by side with a human-edited version: the two could be aesthetically compared.

What if we combined a link to Flickr's "my favorites" with a blog post? The editor could write a paragraph or so about what they liked, then there could be a link. Or a thumbnail of the page could be a link if they didn't want to write commentary.

Posted by kim white at April 14, 2005 8:42 AM


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