The Whole World is Listening

by John G.

A demonstration of how multiple machines can interact together on data produced by people around the world, all within an instant.

At the heart of this project is a cheap open-source electronics platform called “The Arduino”. This small board comes packaged with a programmable CPU allowing anybody with a little programming skill to control a variety of parts and ports. The chain of communication is quite impressive.  In this small project, The internet enabled Arduino executes scripts on my web server which queries Twitter for any tweets from the following cities:

  • Vancouver, Canada
  • Ueno, Tokyo
  • New York, New York
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Sau Paulo, Brazil
  • Beijing, China
  • London, England
  • Pretoria, South Africa

The search is looking for any tweets containing the keyword, “Haiti” within the last 30 seconds. Depending on the data received, the Arduino activates LED’s according to the origins of the “tweets”.

The hardware in use are cheap parts bought from a local electronics store. The 3 programs involved are written using open-source free software, and access to Twitter’s data is also free. The most expensive piece is the Arduino at $50. With the amount of open data that exists on the web and the ability to buy incredibly high-quality computer parts for dirt cheap, anyone with a little bit of time and ambition can create some very cool projects.

Twitter allows people to communicate across the globe in an instant, in addition to this, many of these tweets are created using applications on cell phones, text messaging, web-ready devices, laptops, and machines.  Twitter by nature, uses text as it’s medium for delivery which enables machines to be able to organize, analyze, and work with the worlds data. Capturing these types of conversations between people around the world on such a large scale is unprecedented. Twitter stated on February 22nd, “Today, we are seeing 50 million tweets per day—that’s an average of 600 tweets per second.”

Computers and technology enable millions of people to interact through a variety of different devices, while communicating instantly with each other on a global scale.

Last Thoughts

The end result is a little bit difficult to take in, I think people have a general association with non-screen based objects that they are static, or if they are interactive, that the interaction is based on a fixed number of possibilities decided by a programmer at the time of construction. In my case the data is all live, real-time, the data creates the end result. To have such a simple looking black box communicating so dynamically with a service like Twitter, is a new kind of visual experience for many people. Had this project been entirely web based or even just displayed on a screen, I believe the impact would have been much lower, it’s the fusion between data produced electronically and represented physically that is intriguing.

Quick Video Demonstration

Thanks to Ryan Faerman for his brilliant Twitter Search API wrapper class, to the guys at Lee’s Electronics who answered all my questions with the utmost patience, and to Visual Culture class for inspiring this little experiment. Cheers to hopefully getting a good mark on it.