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Personas
August 20, 2009 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Personas is a part of the MIT Metropath(ologies) exhibit that scours the web for information and attempts to characterize a person based on an entered first and last name, showing visualizations of the process as it chugs along.

Can't say it was particularly adept at digging anything up on me, but maybe you need to be internet-famous for it to work well. Still neat.
posted by juv3nal (55 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The loading feature was cooler than the end result.
posted by netbros at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yay! I continue to be Internet Invisible under my birth name! I could only hope for that.

(It's been a long slog, as I started online early (1985), so I've done a great job hiding from MIT and Google so far.)
posted by hippybear at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2009


Someone enter "John Smith" and see if the server blows up.
posted by datter at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2009


I've been invisible on the Internet ever since my namesake got drafted as a defensive back for New England.
posted by octothorpe at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2009


oh and I'll also add (agreeing with netbros), the ending of that is a monumental disappointment. There could at least be dancing hamsters or something.
posted by datter at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2009


I was expecting pie charts!
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:13 AM on August 20, 2009


All I get is "Increase your window size please," which I thought was a joke at first. I maximized it and that's still what I get.
posted by Jim Slade at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2009


Just ran Josh Millard (mefi's own cortex) and got this line on the 1st page

JOSH MILLARD IS A STUD TO APPEAR AS A UNIT

wow.
posted by ShawnString at 11:15 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA IS THE ANTICHRIST PROPHESIED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

orly?
posted by HumanComplex at 11:16 AM on August 20, 2009


It works with online handles, too. It told me I was too lazy to get up and poop, which is actually true.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:20 AM on August 20, 2009


I'm confused why a photo of little italy gets a big "Illegal" bump.
posted by The Whelk at 11:22 AM on August 20, 2009


Huh, I get a blank screen.

I'm not sure if I should pleased or pissed at this turn of events.
posted by aramaic at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2009


It works with online handles, too. It told me I was too lazy to get up and poop, which is actually true.

Grrr. It doesn't work if your handle has numbers in it.
posted by juv3nal at 11:24 AM on August 20, 2009


Well, it called my first book "enlightening," so I guess it counts for something -- otherwise, it is only fun when you put superhero names in it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:25 AM on August 20, 2009


Huh, I get a blank screen.

Same here after clicking on "Launch Personas."
posted by ericb at 11:26 AM on August 20, 2009


"All I get is "Increase your window size please,"

If you're in Firefox, press F11 to go full screen. It worked on my little laptop. (Press F11 again or move your cursor to the top of the screen to exit fullscreen )
posted by 517 at 11:26 AM on August 20, 2009


hmm...apparently i have doppelgangers. do i need a spray for that? or some sort of cream?
posted by sexyrobot at 11:27 AM on August 20, 2009


FUNCTIONEQUALSFORM IS DEVOTED TO THE PURSUIT OF GENERATING ART VIA CREATIVE PROGRAMMING.


(SIKE!)
posted by functionequalsform at 11:31 AM on August 20, 2009


My real name tells me I'm an illegal sports educator who spends a fair amount of time socializing online.

WolfDaddy is online, social, with an illegal family that is interested in sports.

LIES.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:31 AM on August 20, 2009


sexyrobot is apparently reeeally into something called 'sports'...
i have no idea what that is.
*lights cigarette*
(i am also 'protected by a shield of wild hyperbole at all times'...cool!)
posted by sexyrobot at 11:37 AM on August 20, 2009


I entered "Edward Lighthart." The largest single result was labeled "illegal."
posted by bz at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2009


My real name is shared by (among others) a Florida county attorney, so I get a lot of "legal" in my result. I did learn I was apparently a member of "Bad Boys Blue," though.

Searching by my MeFi name proves that anti-Obama zealots don't know how to spell the term for a song of devotion or loyalty to one's country.
posted by anthom at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2009


I am not putting my Persona online. Insurance companies are sure to bar me from policies because of my pre-existing Z҉A҉L҉G҉O̚̕̚.
posted by everichon at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2009


All I get is "no digital traces found", which is a bit weird.
posted by atbash at 11:53 AM on August 20, 2009


I tried it - interesting stuff scrolled by, especially since I share a real-life name with a New York decorator who goes on and on about her cool apartment. I too, liked the loading part but found the result to be somewhat lacking in awesomeness.
posted by Lynsey at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2009


For the record, I am not the guy who happens to share my name but murdered his girlfriend. I maintain a strict "no girlfriend-murdering" policy in my day-to-day life.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:00 PM on August 20, 2009


Didn't really give me much more information that your standard egosurf, but my bar at the end would make an excellent sweater pattern.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:00 PM on August 20, 2009


Eh, this was anticlimactic.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2009


Huh, seems it's a little nondeterministic. I get different blocks every time.

Vain? Moi?
posted by Westringia F. at 12:24 PM on August 20, 2009


When I punched in my handle, it pulled a lot from Metafilter, so this site is part of what's indexed there ...
posted by WCityMike at 12:30 PM on August 20, 2009


So the bars represent quantities of online data?

It was kind of fun to watch, regardless.
posted by Xoebe at 12:31 PM on August 20, 2009


HOWEVER, HALLOWEEN JACK IS MADE UP OF SOLID CITIZENS WITH SERIOUS STREET CRED

BY THE TIME ONE OF THE GUARDS TAPPED ON HIS GLASS, HALLOWEEN JACK WAS THE VERY MODEL OF ANGRY PACING

EACH CUP OF HALLOWEEN-JACK IS FILLED WITH 3 BATS EACH

and

FAVORITE MOVE OF HALLOWEEN JACK IS TO BALANCE ON THE VERY TOP OF HIS OPPONENTS

All absolutely true, I assure you.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:52 PM on August 20, 2009


My married name is invisible. My birth name brings an avalanche of Stan Rogers stuff.
posted by sarcasticah at 1:04 PM on August 20, 2009


I don't understand how this works. Also, my name isn't quite 'john smith', but it's close enough for this to be worthless.
posted by empath at 1:06 PM on August 20, 2009


It found a few things that were actually associated with me that I already knew about (which was neat). Lots of unrelated sports stuff and obviously someone really pissed off about violations of the 4th amendment.
posted by sperose at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009


Apparently I share a name with some NFL guy, so there's no hope of this thing knowing anything about me.
posted by majick at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009


Huh. My boyfriend's name resulted in a big, purple box with a polite and delicate line labeling it 'aggression'. Now I wonder what he's been doing online. Maybe just listening to this over and over again.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009


RUMPLE IS AN ADORABLE DACHSUND MIX WHO WAS BROUGHT INTO THE SHELTER AS A STRAY AND NEVER CLAIMED
posted by Rumple at 3:34 PM on August 20, 2009


It works on usernames too, by the way. As I have a ridiculously common name I find that to be most excellent.
posted by muddgirl at 3:40 PM on August 20, 2009


subbes was conceived and born in my house...
posted by subbes at 3:55 PM on August 20, 2009


I got this:

"[my real name] was my first love and he broke my heart."

Geez, I wonder who that was?
posted by vibrotronica at 3:56 PM on August 20, 2009


Far more visually appealing than insightful. AKA: meh.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:42 PM on August 20, 2009


From this I learned that I'm the antagonist in a jewish teen novel about the importance of spirituality over materialism. Art imitates life!
posted by jewzilla at 5:30 PM on August 20, 2009


Neat. Very neat. (And so very pretty.) Thanks.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:38 PM on August 20, 2009


I think it told me I suck.

(psst: MIT media group == wankers)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:55 PM on August 20, 2009


I had a piece in the MIT Museum exhibit that this is exhibited in and I've worked with Aaron in the past (though not on this specific project), so perhaps I can shed some light on what's going on here.

The input data is a Yahoo search on whatever you enter plus "is", "has", "was", etc. The resulting sentences get fed into a machine learning algorithm that tries to assign words to different categories. Those categories are described by the words you see in the final listing, eg "illegal", "online", "management", etc. The mapping between words and categories is not a fixed thing. I'm not a machine learning person, but it's been explained to me as a sort of entropic process where it tries assigning words to different groups and seeing how closely they fit to what it expects words in that category to be. So the "loading" screen is really meant to demonstrate the process of a computer thinking about how to understand a person's presence on the web.

This visualization is fundamentally not about the final result — the result is almost always a mess — but it's about opening a window into the tools computers have to deal with information about people. In a more minor way, Aaron as trying to show how the versions of ourselves that are projected online are really weird and limited.

For most non-famous people, there are very few hits because of the way people write. By looking for "is", "was", etc, you tend to find news content more often than if you just did a straight search for people's names. Things you say about yourself (unless you often talk in the third person) aren't going to show up here, nor are links to things you've worked on, or forum comments that mention only your first name. So you've gotta be the kind of person who has things written about them for this to have a lot of meat to work with.
posted by heresiarch at 6:19 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


So at the end you get a color bar? It found tons of stuff about me, but at the end...a color bar? Nothing else? How is that a "persona"?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:05 PM on August 20, 2009


It seems like lots of people here haven't taken the time to read the short rationale:
Personas demonstrates 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. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.

posted by quosimosaur at 9:12 PM on August 20, 2009


To be more specific, it said I was a wigger.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:13 PM on August 20, 2009


SPARX IS A HUMAN LIGHTNING BOLT AND CAN MOVE FASTER THAN LIGHT

Awesome!

SPARX IS COMPLETELY A WEB BASED TOOL

Bummer!
posted by Sparx at 10:24 PM on August 20, 2009


no digital traces found...

which is weird, because someone who shares my real (married) name has claimed the first 10 pages of Google with her evidently super-popular yoga practice.

my birth name gets a lot of results, which is even weirder, since it's a less common name.

my husband's first result is actually him. fucker.
posted by desjardins at 7:02 AM on August 21, 2009


Hey, I was about to post this one!

NOW, I'M AWARE THAT THE EFFBOT IS NEVER WRONG ABOUT ANYTHING ... EFFBOT IS AN INTERNATIONAL TREASURE ... THE EFFBOT WAS ONCE ASKED HOW TO ...

lolwut? zenbot?

A BIT OF CONTEXT: METAFILTER IS A WEBLOG COMMUNITY, WHICH HATES EVERYTHING GAWKER STANDS FOR

Ah, that's better.
posted by effbot at 7:23 AM on August 21, 2009


The problem I have with this is not that the end result is a mess as someone previously said, but that it's basically meaningless. I'm slightly more illegal than legal! And I'm part movie! Wait, what?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:16 AM on August 21, 2009


My real name and username both come up with "illegal" as a significant chunk of the resultant color bar. Should I worry?

Interestingly enough, my real name has more results that are actually me than not, though Googling my name gives a lot of results for non-me people.
posted by notashroom at 11:39 AM on August 21, 2009


Wow, even my username doesn't pull up anything recognizably me.
posted by Pronoiac at 3:32 PM on August 21, 2009


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