Summer 2007

We Feel Fine

‘So incredible that it almost brings me to tears’

This award-winning personal project was created by Sepandar Kamvar and Jonathan Harris in May 2006.

‘Every few minutes, the system searches the internet’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”... The result is a database of several million human feelings.’

John O’Reilly: Narcissism and neurosis are the defining pathologies of Web 2.0 – blogito ergo sum. This follow-up to Jonathan Harris’s 10by10 project captures that, extends it and turns it into a poetry of emotional exhibitionism. This is measurement in the service of atomised emotions: you can search for an A-Z of feelings, from any country in the world, and also see them represented as images. Part Coppola’s The Conversation, part endless Beckettian wait for something that will provide some meaning and resolution to the endless emotional monitoring, Harris’s obsessive systems ultimately bring a designer’s redemption to human feelings left floating in digital space.

Adrian Shaughnessy: A black background with lumbering magenta typography and a hand-rendered, heart-shaped logo makes you think you’ve stumbled across a Valentine’s Day site selling lingerie or chocolate.

Not so: We Feel Fine is an exploration of human emotions, displayed by a self-organising particle system, where each particle is an emotion. Particles can be clicked on to reveal frequently nonsensical or ungrammatical sentences.

The site’s founders claim that ‘it makes the world seem a little smaller, and we hope it helps people see beauty in the everyday ups and downs of life’. But why? This is a site that appears to exist only because there is technology that allows it to exist. I can’t think of any other reason. Somebody must love it, though. On the homepage we are told that the site has been nominated for three 2007 Webby awards.

Brendan Dawes: This is exactly how to represent masses of data online in a beautiful, engaging way. We Feel Fine is so incredible in its design and interaction that it almost brings me to tears. But it’s not just the execution of the subject matter that makes me spend hours playing with the site, it’s how that execution then brings home the very personal emotions of people on the Web and makes you remember that the internet is not a collection of machines but a collection of people who can choose this medium to express their deepest thoughts. A milestone in interactive data visualisation.

Anne Burdick: Outside Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin’s interactive art installation, The Listening Post [see footnote 1], there are few data-mining projects that accomplish the goal of translating the blogosphere’s confessional content into an experience chock full of meaning. We Feel Fine is one of the few that does, and it owes its success entirely to the design of its navigational interface. Its reconfiguring ‘particles’ turn the site’s automatically generated content – sentences that include the words ‘I feel’ – into an irresistible mixture of humour, poignancy, banality and dread. The candy-coated bouyancy of the quantitative data displays is a good match for the sloppy personal nature of the content, reinforcing the notion that this site is less about science and more about storytelling.

The section with most meaning, tellingly titled ‘Montage’, has little to do with statistics and more to do with the power of juxtaposition and framing: sentence fragments are superimposed over full-frame images gathered from the same source. The artful compositions that result encourage us to re-read the everyday in a broader, more philosophical way.