Characterizing Pittsburgh Innovation

A recent fascination of mine has been Personas, an installation by Aaron Zinman, currently on display at the MIT Museum as a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit. The concept is simple, you type in your name (or any two word subject, for that matter), and Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.

Isn’t this what a Google search does? Not quite.

Personas is a work of art, meant to “demonstrate the computer’s uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name.” Personas does not include a feature to sift through the data it finds. Once its search is complete, you’re left to reflect on the personal profile it creates for you.

For instance, a search for ‘Pittsburgh Innovation’ on Google yields:

While the same search on Personas yields:

Yes, the Google interpretation might seem more accurate and informative, but that’s not what this is about. The Personas version provides quite a simple, beautiful, and thought provoking visual representation of online identity.

Aaron Zinman is persistent in stating that this is a piece on data-mining characterizations, and not to be used as a “tool.” However, the designer in me can’t stop thinking about all of the possibilities for a tool like this in the future…

Try it out. Are you as intrigued as I am?

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