An ever-shifting tubular cloud sculpture hovers over a space adjacent to the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza. This is MIMMI, a 40’x75’ inflatable “collective mood ring” held in place by steel cables and posts located outside of the main plaza space. Minute-by-minute, MIMMI's appearance mutates according to the mood swings of Minneapolis Twitter users.
Those who head to or chance upon the cloud sculptures will encounter a three-dimensional representation of the virtual world: negative tweets yield cool colors, while positive ones produce warm colors. The installation's creators aimed to create an “emotional gateway” to Minneapolis, and fuse the real and virtual worlds.
Jointly-created by design groups INVIVIA and Urbain DRC, MIMMI is the first project in the Minneapolis Convention Center's inaugural Creative City Challenge, which will be an annual competition and exhibition. MIMMI's location, as Jack Cochrane of Urbain DRC notes, was chosen “in part to draw people to the center, but also because it is a beautiful but underused space.”
MIMMI went through many iterations, with its designers sculpting all of the elements, from web/visitor interaction to lighting to misting and overall form.
“I call these types of projects that do not have a specific purpose, and which integrate different media that work together coherently to convey a certain message or emotion 'highly evolved useless things with strong evocative powers',” said Allen Sayegh of INVIVIA, and Associate Professor of Practice at Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Though the choice of a cloud shape might seem an obvious tip of the hat to cloud computing, Cochrane said MIMMI's appearance had more to do with weather and mystery.
“Minneapolis has a particular fascination with weather,” said Cochrane. “We see all extremes of climate here over the course of a year, and it’s something that greatly impacts our moods. We also liked it because clouds can block or permit sunlight (akin to our light display) and, of course, rain (for our misting). We also liked the idea that the cloud could be nebulous and mysterious, capable of emitting something that was previously unknown.”
Though the sculpture has a pretty simple appearance, its construction was problematic. “Basically, we put a huge sail in the wind and expected it not to move,” Sayegh said. “Of course, this forced us to think of interesting ways to keep the overall volume but make it as aerodynamic as possible.”
To pull off MIMMI's data organization, INVIVIA used open source textual analysis technology to gauge whether tweets were positive or negative. “We are sourcing all tweets from people within 15 miles of MIMMI and analyzing that text in real-time,” said Cochrane. “We developed a program that sources this data and runs it through an open-source textual analysis data set developed by university researchers, which recognizes over 4,000 positive and negative words and phrases.”
Sayegh and Cochrane then had the text colorized to represent tweeted emotions. The colors appear in the inflatable structure at night, as well as on the project's website, which allows users to see the text itself unfold in real-time.
From there, this color-coded data is sent to low energy, wifi-enabled LED bulbs and an automated water misting system. More mist represents a more positive city vibe. The creators tossed another variable into the equation by having the frequency of tweets alter the shifting lights' rate of change.
MIMMI also reflects the presence of its visitors. The more people gather around the sculpture, the more input MIMMI can incorporate into its data analytics. Depending on the time of day, higher visitor traffic will create more lighting or mist. MIMMI also responds to dancing and other high-octane activity. (An interesting thought is how it would respond to a riot.)
Another way to interact with MIMMI is to use a mobile device. MIMMI's iOS app gives users an augmented reality view of the sculpture, which includes some real-time animations of the vibe MIMMI is picking up like a tuning fork from across the city.
So, does MIMMI actually foster the discussions imagined by its creators? Does it allow people, as Cochrane suggests, “to see Minneapolis in a new, data-intense way, but also in a manner that encourages everyone to come to the plaza and interact with MIMMI physically as well.” That probably depends on the mindset of the individual looking at the cloud sculpture. If MIMMI could collect that sort of data, then things would really get interesting.
“We see this more as an introduction to the idea of a collective consciousness of a city,” said Cochrane. “Something that will become more and more inclusive and robust as time passes.”
For those who can't make it to Minneapolis, watch the MIMMI live feed.