Jelly! Talk Excerpt 1: My Crusade, Twistori, & Elemental Design

This is the first in a series of 2 or 3 posts for the transcript of my Jelly! talk from SXSW. Jelly! talks are put on by Yahoo! and Jelly!, the casual coworking movement. This one was held in the lovely Austin coworking space of Conjunctured. Here’s a link to the video.

My name is Amy, I would say that I have a mission.

My mission is to up the game of all those web designers and PHP people, and Ruby programmers, and so on, who think that it’s enough—and here I’m going to be antagonistic—who think it’s enough to just do a search on something and just display it, or to take the list of their data model and just build a form for it.

I hate web based software, in general. So it’s my crusade to make it better.

Because writing about it hasn’t helped. I like to rant a lot about bad design. I’ve given up on the persuading, so I’m just going to demonstrate. Show don’t tell.

Beginning the Crusade

I began my crusade—not counting the writing part which I’ve been doing for a long time and has been totally ineffective—last March, right after SXSW actually, my husband and I built a little one-page site called Twistori.

And it came out of a frustration that there was all this awesome data on Twitter, people are publishing things and recording things that never got recorded before because they were too ephemeral.

You don’t say “Oh, man, somebody mispronounced my name in a funny way on the airplane,” and write a whole blog post about it.

There are a select group of Livejournalers who write about everything, but for the most part, your typical person would have these throwaway moments that they’ll tweet about but never blog about, or email about, or otherwise capture in any medium where they’d persist or be visible to anyone.

So I was looking at the extraordinary amount of ephemeral data that never existed before, and all these little snippets of people’s days, and thought, “There’s some really cool stuff here” and wanted to do something about it.

And so I decided to stop complaining and writing about why aren’t people doing cool stuff, and take my own advice and do cool stuff.

We made Twistori

So we made this page and what it does is, it looks for the following five emotion statements [here I get my own list of emotions wrong!]. Those are the right ones, right? We actually changed a couple of the ones we picked because they had descenders in their words, like a ‘y’, and it didn’t look good in our design. I’m superficial, I’ll admit it, so sometimes I forget which words there are exactly.

So we looked at this data, and the reason that we came up with these keywords… I like to study human beings, I find them very interesting, and I think this probably comes from the fact that I had no friends as a child so I wanted to understand the enemy. I read lots of books on human watching, by Desmond Morris, and The Naked Ape , and The Ape and the Sushi Master by Franz de Waal, which is really good, and all sorts of things like that, I was a super nerd.

But I have a very clinical understanding of human psychology now, which is helpful.

Compelling

One of the things that drives people is of course, emotions. Everything we do is based on emotions, even if we think we’re being logical. We’re really really interested in other people’s emotions, for all sorts of reasons, and we’re especially interested in voyeurism.

Twistori is anonymous. As these tweets scroll by, you can’t stop the stream unless you know the special key to press. It just happens. It flows. It’s pretty smooth. It’s anonymous.

And we filter out any tweets that contain elements that would be distracting from the overall mood, for example we don’t do tweets with @ names in them, we block URLs, we block anyone who mentions Twistori because of course everyone tried to game it in the first second it came out.

And so what you get, are these emotions, which just scroll by. And because you don’t know who they are, and you can’t look at their name or their photo and make a snap judgment about who they are as a person [to distance yourself from them], you feel strangely connected… even if it’s something that you yourself probably wouldn’t say.

Most of the time though, you find it really, really compelling, and I know exactly why it works and I still get really addicted to it whenever it comes up, I just can’t look away.

Examples

We made some business cards with some slogans on them, things people have said on Twistori:

  • i believe hot chocolate is in order, stat
  • i believe in brain plasticity
  • i believe in unicorns. i’m a unicorn myself.
  • i think the planets must be mis-aligned
  • i hate drama
  • i hate walking through my house in the dark
  • i hate carrying a wet umbrella
  • i love everyone, kittens and sunshine. truly.
  • i love chocolate milk
  • i love that twelve bucks got me wasted
  • i wish there were batteries in my remote
  • i wish i was like you, easily amused

And I probably can’t read this one because there are bad words in it, but I like it.

Removal of Boundaries

Some of them are very mundane, and yet it’s almost more compelling to read the mundane ones than to read the ones that are deep emotional stuff, because it’s something you’ll definitely identify with.

Like, who hasn’t had that moment where they feel like they’re in love with the world? I mean, there are songs about that. It’s Almost Like Being In Love. That song is about that feeling, not about human love between two people.

So that’s why we did that.

And it was really good for me to see that my theories aren’t totally wrong, because other people have really enjoyed it too.

That taught me, I just have to ship stuff. I just have to do things. I’m going to stop talking and just do stuff.

So we’ve been looking at other ways we can look at the typical way of doing something, whether it’s sort of an artsy fartsy project like Twistori, or something concrete and usable.

Continued in part 2…

… on Thursday :)

7 Comments

  1. David says:

    Nirvana was easily amused in "All Apologies"

  2. pretty neat. maybe randomly once in a while create an actual link..

  3. James says:

    I love Twistori. I love that you made a screensaver from Twistori. Screensavers suck, but Twistori sure doesn’t.

    And absolutely brilliant story behind the creation of it – awesome :D

  4. Benji says:

    This is fascinating.

  5. raghuonrails says:

    Twistori is pretty cool .I appreciate your efforts amy ..i liked the stuff that happens when u press the "W","R" and "SPACE" keys … TWISTORI FTW !!!

  6. I’m a big, big fan of Twistori! And this blogpost is also very interesting; you made some very sound decisions in designing it. The screensaver is great too. I wonder if it is possible to do an export or feed to use on my Nabaztag? Anyways, keep up the great work (I’ll be searching for that special key….)

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