At last month’s London Design Festival, six projects considered how Twitter might enable interactions beyond verbal communication, with one that equipped pigeons with backpacks to monitor air quality, another probing the evolving language of the internet, and a third looked at how nonprofit donors engaged with their supported projects in real-time. #PoweredByTweets: The Challenge was installed in London’s Somerset House, with the winning ideas in an open competition built out by Pixie Labs.
The six projects were selected in the two categories of “solve a problem” and “create something beautiful.” Visitors were encouraged to interact with the pieces, such as #WordbyWord by HiveWorks which featured a physical typewriter clattering out the words from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as they were typed on Twitter, and #PutRedBack (the winner in the “create something beautiful” category) by Cheil UK, where Twitter users could tweet a drop of “blood” to an installation in the windows — the project advocates for the lifting of restrictions that limit gay men from donating blood in the UK. Each project, of course, had their artist statement in 140 characters or less, and #PutRedBack succinctly explained theirs: “Blood doesn’t discriminate over sexuality. It just saves lives.”
The winner in the “solve a problem” category was likewise compelling. #PigeonAirPatrol by Pierre Duquesnoy and Matt Daniels was installed in small booths, where data from pigeons with carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide monitors in cities like New York City, London, and São Paulo transmitted air quality data in real time accompanied aerial views. Anyone can tweet @PigeonAirPatrol and get an automatic response on pollution.
Both the winners definitely stood out with their concise, readily accessible ideas that are ideal for a rapid fire social media platform like Twitter.
Another project with potential was #SocialMindscape by Adeola Akande and Eloise Parfitt (with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust). Designed as a distraction for people undergoing chemotherapy, visitors could recline on the floor and look at images chosen by patients and hospital staff in response to hashtags like #TakeMetotheOcean or #TakeMeToTheFalls. It’s part of the hospital’s new Cancer Centre, which is scheduled planned to open in 2016. When installed, #SocialMindscape will allow patients to tweet various words and popular images and create an immersive, meditative experience in the room.
Together in one gallery were two more projects with a global outlook. On one wall #WordWatching by Mark Carroll and Alex Willimott tallied the most popular words on Twitter in an effort to track the subtle changes in our communal language. We are living in the wake of words like “crowdfund” and “photobomber” joining the Oxford English Dictionary this year, so their theory is that Twitter could predict the lasting impact of a word, or if it’s simply a fleeting trend.
Facing it on an opposite wall, #TweetTaps by Kate Waters, Perry Price, and Pat McCaren for Now Feed in partnership with WaterAid UK used a map of the world illuminated by points that illustrate the metal water pumps that donations created. Their idea is that through Twitter donors could see the outcome of their generosity and #TweetTap would actively update them on the specific impact their donation had on a community. Like each of the projects, it’s aimed at creating deeper connections through social media, while pushing the limits of its current use.
#PoweredByTweets: The Challenge was September 21 to 27 at Somerset House (Strand, London) as part of the London Design Festival.