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Invisible Cities: Social Network Mapping Project

In the work Invisible Cities, media artists Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia explore the virtual and spatial social relationships that exist in an urban environment. The demo video above is a topographical map of Twitter and Flickr activity for New York City—the white nodes indicate real-time activity, whereas aggregated data density over time is displayed three dimensionally in the form of hills, making the city look like it’s been transported to the Rocky Mountain range.

From the artists’ website:
Invisible Cities maps information from one realm—online social networks—to another: an immersive, three dimensional space. In doing so, the piece creates a parallel experience to the physical urban environment. The interplay between the aggregate and the real-time recreates the kind of dynamics present within the physical world, where the city is both a vessel for and a product of human activity. It is ultimately a parallel city of intersections, discovery, and memory, and a medium for experiencing the physical environment anew.

The application, built in Processing, is still in development and should be available for download sometime in the future. To stay in touch, sign up for general news and future software releases here.

What’s interesting about this project is the clear visualization it provides of localized pockets of high social networking activity. We tend to think of social networking as being pervasive these days—everyone is doing it, aren’t they? But how much of that assumption is informed by our immediate surroundings? By our friends and coworkers? For those of us who live and work in NYC, it comes as no surprise that the highest social networking density on this map appears to be in the Midtown area, deep in the heart of NYC’s Silicon Alley.

Do we tweet because we want to? Or is it out of some warped sense of social networking peer pressure?

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