social computing lab




agonistics: a language game

contact: Warren Sack

abstract: The images and actions used as metaphors by Chantal Mouffe and other theorists of "agonistic democracy" can be instantiated as interactive, graphical objects and dynamics. this "literal" instantiation will then be a computer game that can played by posting messages to a public, online discussion forum. The "game" is actually an interface that can be used to visualize the dynamics of online discussions.

websites: project site, commission announcement from rhizome, installation at the whitney artport and the zkm:

support: at the New Museum, New York City; Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, Alberta, Canada; ZKM: Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany; Center on Organizational Innovation, Columbia University

translation map

contacts: Warren Sack & Sawad Brooks (

abstract: In his 1949 essay on machine translation, Warren Weaver wrote “When I look at an article in Russian, I say, 'This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode'.” Most contemporary machine translation software built today is still designed around Weaver’s ridiculous idea that translation is a form of de/coding. Sawad and I built an alternative in which the computer functions – not as a magic de/coding box – but rather as a facilitating medium to foster collective work between people. Our work supports the idea that translation is not a de/coding problem but is, rather, a problem of collaboration and collective writing between people.

websites: proposal, user's manual, commission from the Walker Art Center and the Jermone Foundation, site at the Walker Art Center:

support: Walker Art Center, Jerome Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Rockefeller Foundation, Arts Technology Center, University of New Mexico


contacts: Michael Dale & Aphid Stern

abstract: Metavid aims to extend open source projects and communities to create a web application that facilitates adding Meta data to a video archive and live video streams. The case study implementation will work with cspan house and senate floor footage. The system will allow participants to write Meta data functions that mediate the video archive. For example a participant might pull in campaign contributions data for the current speaker and list them alongside the video feed.

websites: project page

train tracks

contacts: Michella Rivera-Gravage

abstract: A perpetually unfolding collection of downloadable audio programs, Train Tracks is a combination of interviews with public transportation riders, histories about the BART system in San Francisco, and ambient/musical elements sewn together to poetically convey the intricacies of sociality in the confined spaces of public transport, from decorous anonymity to public sex.

The audio programs, distributed through podcasting and CD, will enable riders to hear stories from the people around them, along with other aural tidbits, that are connected to routes within the BART system. Programs will be arranged by time of day and route, as well as categorized thematically on the Train Tracks website. Interviewees will be asked questions about their lives and the associations they have with their routes, their perceptions of social interaction on the train and their observations of the folks around them. There will be audio programs that are specifically timed for a route from one station to another, acting as a soundtrack for that route. Train Tracks will consist of both story/interview based programs as well as experimental music and ambient soundtracks that interact with the visual and aural environment. Though I will be conducting interviews throughout the project, I will also enlist commuters to become interviewers. Having multiple interviewers will diversify the range of investigations and reactions to interviews. The website is central to Train Tracks and is where participants can find a description of the project, a link to the Train Tracks podcast, a bulletin board for responses to the stories, a visualization of participants' routes and a blog for the interviewers. A new audio program will be distributed once a week.

websites: project page

home project / interactive interiors

contacts: Alana Perlin

abstract: The proposal Home Project aims to address the problem of the limited personal representation people are afforded on the internet. Home Project stems from the idea of creating a viable space where people can represent themselves through their home environment. A navigable web structure will allow users to upload pictures from their personal surroundings and engage their environment as a structure for others to navigate through. The idea for interactive interiors thus emerges, where people would learn about themselves and other's personal characteristics by navigating through virtual spaces modeled after their own environments. Commonalities would therefore come forth, and people would be able to assess and compare their spaces and interests with one another. Methods of virtual representation constitute an attempt to engage larger communities and to reshape ways in which people have access to presenting themselves. I propose an environment where individuals fashion themselves through an interactive, web-based navigation of space. Repositioning physical space into a virtual arena would allow for forms of exploration not available in physical reality, allowing for the metaphorical and philosophical to emerge through user interaction. For example, a kitchen could contain particular foods that represent a person's dietary philosophy. A bedroom could be a space to tell dreams or nightmares. Reexamination of events after they have occurred, almost in the model of the detective of our own personal stories, would provide a framework of navigating the space. In this context the personal and everyday objects we surround ourselves with would frame memories and ambitions, revealed by close examination and interaction with the virtual environments. The goal of the interactive space would be relaying personal details of contributors that would otherwise be overlooked in a web context.

websites: project page

conversation map

contact: Warren Sack

abstract: The Conversation Map is a graphical, newsgroup browser that is designed to make it easier for participants to understand and reflect on very large-scale conversations(VLSCs) like large, electronic-mail lists or busy, Usenet newsgroups.

website: project site

support: MIT Media Laboratory

street stories

contacts: Warren Sack & Michael Dale

abstract: The goal of this research project is to design new places of community for the network society through the creation of a new practice and technology of place-based storytelling. We call this practice and technology Street Stories.

websites: progress report, project site (no password needed; just press the "submit button to enter the site)

support: Faculty Senate Committee on Research (COR) of the University of California, Berkeley; COR of the University of California, Santa Cruz; Nextel

open source software design and discussion

contacts: Warren Sack, Francoise Detienne (INRIA), Jean-Marie Burkhardt (INRIA/U. of Paris 5), Flore Barcellini (INRIA), Dilan Mahendran (Berkeley), Nicolas Ducheneaut (PARC)

abstract: The objective of our research is to understand the specific hybrid weaving accomplished by participants in the design of Open Source software; and, to implement a series of visualization tools for browsing and searching online discussions and code archives associated with OSS projects.

latest papers: Computer_Supported Cooperative Work Conference (Chicago, November2004); and, Communities and Technologies Conference (Milan, June 2005)

support: France-Berkeley Fund; Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA); Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (CNAM); Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS); Centre de sociologie de l'innovation, Ecole des Mines de Paris

an interface and search engine for deliberation

contact: Warren Sack

abstract: Crucial to a deliberative democracy is the ability of citizens to deliberate the merits and weaknesses of their own opinion and weigh those against the merits and weaknesses of opposing opinions. Consequently citizens need access to opposing opinions. We propose a digital technology to meet this citizen need: an interface and search engine for deliberation that is designed to aid citizens to find, browse and sort through opposing opinions.

website: proposal abstract

support: National Science Foundation (NSF), CISE, Digital Society and Technologies Program

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