Serial Anna

Personas: Good Man, Bad Man, Funnyman, Chick
August 28, 2009, 7:57 pm
Filed under: Film and Media, HCI

Personas by Aaron Zinman is an online component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit put on by the Sociable Media Group at the  MIT Media Lab. The installation crawls the web and aggregates a bunch of data, which it then turns into the color/word bars that you see below.

After an initial obligatory self-searching, I noted that part of what makes the installation so intriguing is the flow of crawled text as it builds into a final representation. The installation displays partial stories before pushing the information derived into a category.

Here’s Nelson Mandela:

Nelson Mandela Personas

Nelson Mandela Persona

And here’s Nelson Mandela being built by Personas (to get a good look, you might want to watch the video full-screen):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Screenr – @annakjonsson: Nelson Mande…“, posted with vodpod

Okay, so we have one interesting public figure who became the President of post-Apartheid South Africa and who arguably was a positive force for change in the world. So what about the baddest of the bad?

Charles Manson:

Charles Manson Persona

Charles Manson Persona

It’s reassuring to see that “Illegal” is the largest category for Manson, but “social” is among the second largest category, and prominent categories like Sports and Management are downright confusing. Furthermore, it is strange to see the name Manson afforded categories like “art” and “professional” at all.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Screenr – @annakjonsson: Charles Mans…“, posted with vodpod

Okay, we’ve done good man and bad man now. I decided to try out my current favorite comic (and person to follow on Twitter), Russell Brand. Here he is:

Russell Brand Persona

Russell Brand Persona

Here his largest categories make sense; online, movies and social. But Sports and Military make less sense.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Screenr – @annakjonsson: Russell Bran…“, posted with vodpod

And finally, I didn’t have any girls. Jezebel did a nice piece a little while back about prominent women in the Media (What Do People’s Online Personas Say About Them?), which offers more visualizations if you don’t want to DIY. But I decided to try out Gwen Stefani, general rad chick and lead singer of No Doubt since as long as I can remember.

Here’s Gwen:

Gwen Stefani Persona

Gwen Stefani Persona

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Screenr – @annakjonsson: Gwen Stefani…“, posted with vodpod


After watching the growth of these fine (well, 3/4ths of them) folks, as well as observing the construction of my own persona, I recognized that the project might show just as much, if not more, about the body of data from which the personas are derived. For example, all of these personas, none of whom are athletes, include substantial sports sections. Maybe this has to do with the way that language is constructed to organize information about sports. For example, many sites have sports pages or sections, and there are many opportunities for vocabulary that falls within the umbrella of sports.

I’m actually not trying to go into deep analysis mode, so I guess I’ll leave it at that. It’s hard not to draw some conclusions. But if you found this post in the least bit interesting, you’ll want to read up on Personas. The explanation of the installation notes that the project was “not supposed to be utilitarian. Instead, it was meant to expose a process that often happens behind the scenes.”


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: