On Pitchers and Plagiarism

OK, let’s try this again.

Last night I put up a big long post about my website Name My Bar and the strangely similar hipsterbusiness.name. I was making the case that they had copied me. I had gone through the code of the second site and found many similarities; both sites work by picking words from one-syllable and two-syllable groupings, both have one main reload link (AGAIN vs ANOTHER!), both have a pithy comment (mine is a joke, theirs is a link where you can purchase domain names)…hell, even the javascript function that kicks off their code has the same name as my function.

comparison

My site appeared to have been live roughly five months before the “imposter” site. Slam dunk, right? They copied me, and I was really annoyed.

The hipster site had been covered on Adweek, and I had contacted the author asking if I could be named in the article as inspiration, but I was rebuffed. So I did some googling around for the site’s creator, who, as it turns it, had kind of an interesting set of search results for other reasons entirely. I’m not going to get into it here, but still. I typed up the crazy saga of how and why I thought my site had been copied, and I hit publish.

And then one of my coworkers sent me this: what appears to be an abandoned github account bearing the name of the site’s creator, and the bones of what eventually became hipsterbusiness.name. It’s a simpler version — the logo generator isn’t there yet, nor is the link where you can buy domains — but most of what I thought was suspicious is there. The two groups of words divided out by syllables are there. The function name is there. And it predates my site.

Do you listen to Radiolab? Do you know the story of Laura Buxton, the girl who once released a balloon that traveled 140 miles away and made it into the hands of another girl whose name was also Laura Buxton? I feel like I just got Buxtoned.

I don’t really know how to explain such a remarkable series of coincidences. When I was building my site, I wasn’t on github yet (and let’s be honest, I’m still pretty terrible at navigating it), and I don’t think I could have possibly googled my way to her hipster/index.html file. What would I even have searched for? And if I had found it…well, I wouldn’t have copied her code. I probably wouldn’t have made a site at all. I would have laughed that someone beat me to the concept, posted about it on Facebook, and called it a day.

My best guess at this point is this: we actually did come up with very similar versions of the idea independently. Hers seems to have languished for a year or so, and so I published my version first. Perhaps she saw its success and decided to dust off her own code. But I don’t know. Perhaps not. Maybe she really has no idea I exist.

When I started posting about hipsterbusiness.name on twitter, Darius Kazemi (who is something of a mentor to those of us working in this space) wrote up a little post about a time something similar happened to him; he launched a generator that turned out to be much like a project that predated his. When he found out, he tweeted about it and linked to their work. I think that’s the right thing to do, and so I am doing it. I still wish Adweek would have done it, honestly — it couldn’t have hurt their story to point out related work.

So that’s it. I’m calling this case closed. Now let’s all head down to the Wattle & Plug for a good stiff drink.

I’m here without you, baby: lessons from The Lonely Project

Note:

Hello! Lauren, your neglectful blog author here. I haven’t posted since January so here’s a quick catch-up summary/litany of excuses:

  • January – May: Freelance design, basically every spare evening and weekend I had. Learned a ton, but also stopped vacuuming and doing dishes and embracing the basic self-care one needs to perform to stay sane and enjoy life.
  • May: Completed my graduate certificate in Emerging Design and Research at Penn.
  • June: Accepted a new job as a marketing designer at the awesome local startup RJMetrics. Gradually learned to say no to side jobs. Started breathing again. Did a lot of outdoor yoga. Did a lot of vacuuming.
  • July: 6-year anniversary living in this old house. I celebrated, as is customary in these last few years, by failing to notice the date had come and gone.

All this to say: I have no house updates for you. The weeds in my backyard are so massive they’re probably supporting their own complex ecosystems. But I would like to use this space to talk a little about the project I created as part of my design certificate. It’s my blog, I make the rules!

Why The Lonely Project?

img2I wanted to do this project for at least a year, but bringing it to life was a struggle. At the beginning of the process, all I knew was this: I felt lonely. And I wanted to use that feeling to make something. Hopefully something useful. Something that would make myself less lonely, but maybe also something other people could use to do the same.

As the idea tumbled over and over in my head, not solidifying into anything particularly useful, I looked around for similar projects to serve as inspiration. But I didn’t find much. When you google loneliness, you get a lot of…stuff. There are definitions, and quizzes, and a wikihow entitled How to Deal With Loneliness: 15 Steps (with Pictures).

With pictures, you say? Well golly. I feel better already.

None of this seemed terribly compelling. What I really wanted was to read individual people’s words and hear about their experiences. I wanted to feel like there were other people out there working through the same emotions. And so when Penn offered to let me take a final class — a research-based independent study that would result in a culminating project — I decided it was time to force this nebulous idea out of my brain and try to create the thing I wished already existed: a sort of landing page for the lonely.

So, what did I make?

Simply put, The Lonely Project is a mobile website that displays tweets about loneliness. It’s programmed to search for any recent posts that use the words “I” and “lonely”. It also tries to exclude tweets about NOT feeling lonely, so what’s left are the direct words of people who are all currently experiencing the same emotion.

img6img5 img3

The site displays only the words of the tweet, one tweet at a time. You won’t see the name of the user, or their profile picture or location. And when a tweet is loaded you only have two options: you can load a new tweet to replace the current one, OR if the words on the screen move you, you can press the tweet button and the twitter account @aLonelyProject will reach out to the original poster for you. It sends a simple message:

Someone over here wanted you to know that you’re not alone. #lonely #lonelyproject

That’s it. A simple idea, and a simple site to match. It was still the most complicated thing I had attempted to code, but after receiving few PHP tips (via Twitter, of course), I got it up and running in late April of this year.

What have I learned?

IMG_3033It’s difficult for people to talk about feeling vulnerable.

Some of us are completely comfortable putting the words “I’m really lonely” into the world, but many of us are not. We have a variety of ways of saying it without reeeeeally having to say it.

One common strategy is self-deprecation or humor. I see many, many tweets that follow the formula I honestly feel really terrible + “LOL”. People expect to be teased for coming across as weak, and there’s so much stigma surrounding mental health. Confessing that we feel less-than-stellar makes us nervous. So before anyone else can laugh at us, we laugh at ourselves. I know this is ridiculous, we say, but still…

Sometimes we say we’re lonely with emojis, or with gifs. But some of the most common tweets I see are song lyrics. Surprisingly (to me, at least), the most commonly posted lyric of all is this pair of lines from a twelve year-old 3 Doors Down Song:

“I’m here without you, baby / but you’re still on my lonely mind”

Occasionally, a user of The Lonely Project will hit the tweet button on a set of song lyrics and I’ll receive a reply along the lines of “thanks, but it’s just a song.” Someone else said it, we say. Someone else felt it. It’s not really me.

 

People really like hearing from the project! 

When I first launched the site, I was very concerned that I’d get a lot of negative feedback from people who were essentially being surprise-tweeted by an unfamiliar account. It’s technically against Twitter’s terms of service to write a program that automatically sends at-replies based on a keyword search. Now, I would argue that @aLonelyProject isn’t REALLY auto-replying — each instance is triggered by a human interaction — but still, I understood that if the reaction to the project was poor, the account could be reported and shut down.

I recognized that the people whose words get featured on the site were sharing true moments of vulnerability, and of sadness. Would it be comforting to hear from this half-bot they didn’t know had been searching through their words? Or would it feel like an invasion of privacy? In short: would I be making people feel worse?

My instinct, though, was that Twitter users were posting these feelings publicly because they did want some kind of acknowledgement. And thankfully, that seems to be the case. As of yesterday, the account has tweeted 1,454 times and has received the following: 496 faves, 351 retweets, and 256 replies. Of the replies, only a handfull have amounted to “hey bot, fuck off.” Some people reply to express confusion, but the vast majority of feedback has been positive.

img12img11 img10

At the very least, over a third of the people contacted by the account are pleased enough to throw the tweet a fave. At best, this:

emily

 

They may like hearing from it, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use it.

My plan for the project was that it would spread organically; someone would be contacted by the twitter account, the message would make them feel a bit better, and they’d follow the URL in the account’s bio info to start tweeting to others. And that does seem to happen, but not at the clip I was hoping. The most unique visitors the site has seen in one day is in the mid-50s. On a typical day it sees roughly 10 visitors.

Those visitors, though, spend much longer on this site than any of my other web-based projects. An average sessions is just over four minutes. And I know that most of the time @aLonelyProject posts, it’s not me using the site. But still, for those people sitting in bed with their smartphones and googling “I’m lonely” and looking for something to do about it, the project isn’t going to turn up in their search results. Yet. Nearly all referrals to the site still come through Twitter.

 

Other surprise findings?

Lonely people are desperate to interact with Justin Bieber.

justin1justin2

Not really my thing, but hey.

What’s next?

I’ve had a lot of neat suggestions regarding The Lonely Project, from usability improvements to quantifying results. A coworker at RJMetrics suggested I perform a sentiment analysis on user’s tweets before and after the project interacts with them, to get a measurement of whether their mood has improved. As we like to say at work, “data or it didn’t happen.”

The site got a mention in a Washington Post article about automated Twitter accounts (sometimes called bots) as well:

Since then, artful programming has let people in chatrooms communicate with bots as if they were other people — and even communicate with other people through the intermediary of bots. The Lonely Project, by the Philadelphia botmaker Lauren Hallden, anonymizes tweets from people who say that they’re lonely, and invites readers to send them a comforting tweet, also anonymized through the bot.

“Someone over here wanted you to know that you’re not alone,” the tweet reads. It’s one of those rare instances when computer code and social media racket coalesce into something like magic.

I’ve also had a few invitations to speak about the project. I’ll be presenting it to a design class at Penn in the fall, and plans to bring it to a bot conference in Boston are in the works.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. And of course, if you’d like to tweet to some lonely people, feel free to use the project or give it a share. It’s at: laurenhallden.com/lonelyproject

New work

I hereby designate 2013 The Year of Hard Work. In addition to my day job and trying to stay on top of the house, I’m enrolled in an Information Visualization course and I’m taking on some new freelance and personal projects too. To keep everything cataloged I’ve updated my portfolio:

Lauren Hallden | Visual Designer

So head over there if you want to see what I’m up to, design-wise. A lot of it is class work, including this infovis assignment on my own tweeting habits:

3 Years In Tweets

For this project I took my two personal twitter accounts and mapped my tweeting frequency and content over time against a variety of life events. There’s a 8.5 x 11″ flyer version of this visualization, too, but I was especially proud of the website, which is hand coded and assembled in under 2 days (shout out to Susan who taught me everything I know about coding [beyond the introduction given to me by my mother] and whose Web Start Women project is an inspiration).

Infovis is a demanding class, so unfortunately I don’t have time for more personal work at the moment. But at some point I’d like to return to making a few more of these lettering pieces:

youDontWriteBack

These are something of a response to the relentless positivity out there in the world of type-based design. You can’t throw a rock on the web today without hitting an artfully lettered but otherwise completely generic “you’re braver than you think you are” or “you only run out of chances when you stop taking them” or “live your dreams.”

Live my dreams, huh? Golly Gee Willikers. Thanks for the tip.

For me, swirly flourishy bits work best when balanced by a little bite. Life bites sometimes. It’s okay to talk about that, too. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and if you’d like to see more you can check out the full set of designs here.

I’ve had a few people express interest in having their own words hand-lettered and I’d love to keep working in this direction, so if you have a favorite saying with a little more personality than “you will never win if you never begin” and you’d like me to take a stab at it, please contact me! I’m going to be a little busy through May, but that’s okay. It’s the Year of Hard Work. Let’s make some awesome stuff.

Bone tour

(For for duration of this post, let’s just pretend “that’s what she said” isn’t a thing, okay?)

As you may already know, my house is home to a growing collection of bones. I enjoy having them around for some of the same reasons I enjoy collecting feathers and shells and driftwood and stones: natural objects and their structures are just fascinating to me. The diversity of stuff on this planet is pretty mind-blowing.

But I’ll admit it, I also get a little sentimental about my bits of calcium. They serve as a quiet reminder that nothing — none of us, nothing we do or create, nothing we enjoy or endure — is permanent.

I’m okay with that.

I’ve come a long way since, as a child, I was so afraid of my own skeleton — its very existence evidence of my eventual death — that I convinced myself I was the only person in the world held together by a structure made of rainbows. But you can’t make it through art school being squeamish about your anatomy.

(Pencil drawings by me of me, circa 2006-7)

So this is a post created in honor of bones. I’ll take you through my collection, starting with the two pieces above which I picked up while hiking with the family: a pelvis fragment (I think?) and a slightly-gnawed deer antler. Small mammals chew on bones over the winter, when times are lean, so it’s difficult to find antler sheds intact unless your timing is excellent. I am told that a friend has collected a whole bunch of them for me, though, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them for what will certainly be a slightly hokey yet totally fun DIY project.

The antler lives in a vase by my television, while the pelvis is tucked in here. Smaller bones are hard to display, so I often find myself nesting them inside other objects.

And now for the big bones. You’ve met the bear, of course, but he has a back story.

He came to me by way of a friend who made it his goal to live as close to nature as possible (he blogs here if you’re interested in what the lifestyle entails — apparently a lot of waterproofing things and trapping rodents, but hey, whatever floats you boat [GROAN]). When I mentioned to him that I have a habit of collecting these kinds of objects, he sent me a big box full of interesting things he’d come across on his travels. The bear skull was the most impressive item, but I also really like this partial deer:

He lives (as much as a skull can be said to live) in the new bookshelf in my home office, guarding one of my mother’s antique butterfly guides. She was a bit of a collector and nature enthusiast as well.

And now the newest addition to the collection. On my family’s recent vacation to the Poconos, we got knocked off a very poorly marked hiking trail and had to scramble our way through a thick forest, where I came across this little lady:

Dad was maybe less than enthusiastic when I picked her up with my bare hands and asked if I could stuff her in his backpack (I believe his exact word were, “Great. Let’s all see if we can get some horrible disease.”), but he’s nothing if not indulgent. So I cleaned up my doe and now her home is on the mantle in the living room.

Check out her plates:

Thus concludes the bone tour. That is, unless you want to take a crack at identifying these mystery teeth that keep showing up in my back yard:

Giant…possum…?

Project: Paper Cutting

I’ve been doing a lot of graphic design work lately, both freelance and as coursework. But once in a while I still manage to steal some time for a personal project. I felt this one was worthy of a quick share.

When the writer David Rakoff passed away last month (causing me to twitter-curse cancer for the zillionth time), I came across this beautiful tumblr of all the gifts he’d given his close friends on special occasions — birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs, etc. Among the images I found some stunning paper cuttings, usually featuring drawings of koi framed with elegant hand lettering, presented to parents upon the births of their children. I thought it was such a sweet commemorative gesture, I couldn’t wait to inflict it on my own friends.

And wouldn’t you know it, I happened to have a pregnant friend! The first soon-to-be-mom of my childhood crew! And her baby shower was fast approaching!

Not knowing the kiddo’s name or birth date, I opted to do a test run of the paper cutting idea and present my friend with a mini coupon done in the style I’d use for the real deal. I mocked up a basic design digitally and then transferred the sketch to — wait, I don’t have any black paper lying around the house somewhere? Really? Anywhere? No?

Huh.

Okay, fine. How about this:

DIY crisis averted.

I also thought this would be a fun project to time lapse, so I propped my iPhone up with a stand made of clay and got to work:

[flickr video=7976498218 secret=b9e2466c3f w=640 h=360]

Yeah. Oops. Clay = malleable.

But while I totally botched the video, I managed not to destroy the thing that mattered:

I think the key to this technique is to be very, very precise about your pencil lines. For example, although I outlined each letter and design element distinctly, before I started cutting (read: ruining everything) I went back in with an eraser and clearly indicated the places where objects connected. I think this helped me avoid errant (and potentially disastrous) cuts. That and taking frequent breaks for hand cramping. And also talking to myself. I’m sure my neighbors find the girl on the other side of the wall who verbally admonishes herself not to screw this up charming, right?

Ta-da! One hand-cut coupon, and also one totally freehand giraffe onesie.

…do people come that small? Seriously?

Gosh.

I’ve got some things to learn about babies. Can’t wait to meet your little one, M & D!

48-second gift

I owe you some house updates, but I wanted to share a different sort of project first. This past weekend, a very dear friend of mine married her awesome fiancé in a really sweet, fun ceremony at a nature conservancy in Maryland (congrats, guys!).

Flash back a few months: I was debating what to give the couple as a gift, and the bride suggested that I go off-registry and make something by hand. This is kind of a tricky proposition — as well as you know someone, it can be difficult to narrow in on the style of art she would appreciate in her (and her husband’s!) home. So I thought it might be best to focus on something classic, nature-based, and calming.

My inspiration for the piece came as I was editing photographs for this post. In one of my shell dishes I have a lone cluster of seed pods, plucked from the sidewalk not far from my house. I love the shape of these pods. They have a form that reminds me of a tulip just beginning to open. Their structure implies action — a promise that something good will be arriving.

I started to picture a field of them, reaching up from long stems, almost as though they were flowers emerging from a morning fog.  They don’t grow this way in nature, of course, but that’s why we have such a thing as artistic license.  I think you win one of those after you’ve spent 4 years sketching ugly ceramic pots on rumpled sheets.

I gathered a bunch of additional pods over the course of a few days, and began to sketch an arrangement of them on a pale gray illustration board. I thought it might be fun to document my process and share it here in video form:

[flickr video=6244681651 secret=44fb3d1c0d w=640 h=360]

 

I used an app called TimeLapse to capture an image every 30 seconds (except in the beginning, where the images were spaced out over a few minutes as I played with the app settings). The video a little wonky since the piece itself is big, requiring me to move it/myself frequently, and it’s filmed over several days in different lighting situations. But still: warp speed drawing is fun to watch.

I took my finished piece to a great local framing shop, where they got to work making the thing all proper and archival and stuff.  No cheap-o plastic frame from the craft store, here!  This is a gallery-quality product.

When my gift came back to me it was wrapped in heavy brown paper, which was practical but not pretty.  So I took on a second, last-minute project: stenciling my own wrapping paper. I used a template to trace a pattern of diamonds with alternating stripes in silver marker.

Et voila!  A DIY wedding gift.  I hope it suits your home, Marissa and Dan!  May your marriage be full of lots of little promises of good things arriving.

More Radio Silence

I haven’t updated since September? Whoops.

In my defense, it has been a busy fall over here. In addition to the still semi-new job, I’ve been working on a bunch of non-house projects. Lots of them for my web design class (which is killing my free time, but I love it regardless). After the pipe project website, which you’ve seen, I redesigned an existing homepage:

Before

After

Then, I made this silly, interactive web art piece that pulls in tweets about bubbles and animates them like… bubbles (go tweet to it, it’s fun to see your message pop up!):

For my final project, I’m thinking of giving this here blog a new home. I’d especially like to include a clickable floorplan of the house that allows you to explore a timeline of renovation-in-progress photos by room. And by you, I mean me. I need to see lots of “before” pictures to remind me of how far we’ve come. ‘Cause it seems like nothing is getting done around here these days.

In other art an design news, I just finished up an Etsy commission – my first!

I was asked to create this graphite drawing of the architectural details of the buyer’s seriously awesome house. This is more of a geometric style than what I typically draw for fun, but I enjoyed taking on the challenge.

For more of my Etsy work, you can always visit my shop. ;)

Distracted by Pipes. Again.

I owe you more 2-year update photos, but I’m distracted. By homework, of all things. Did I mention that I’m taking a web design course? I’ve wanted to get some proper instruction on mastering teh internets for a while, but it wasn’t until I got my new job that the cost issue was resolved (read: the course is free through my very generous employer).

I’ve spent some insane amount of time on my first project (11 hours and counting), so I wanted to share it. And it’s house related! Our assignment was to create a site in which the content exists on one page -– no links leading to longer urls allowed. Well, except for anchors. But you know what I mean.

So I designed a visual tutorial of how to assemble the pipe shelving unit project. Come check it out:

Pipe website!

The class is designing using code only (no dragging page elements around -– actually, no visual editor period!), so I wrote the whole thing from scratch in what is basically a notepad file. And I made all the vector drawings, and the animation… and now I understand why I have a headache. Keeping up with these college kids is not easy. They run on Red Bull and require no sleep.

Speaking of web design, Ye Olde House Blogge could use a makeover… why is my header image broken?

Sigh. There’s always another project to tackle.

First Friday Show

The Hollandia International showroom exhibited a perfect marriage between art and luxurious sleep systems last night.  Here are a few images from the show!

Thanks to everyone who came out, and many thanks to Stefan for hosting me.  If you’re ever near the store, drop by and have him demo an adjustable mattress for you.  They’re incredibly fun and far too comfortable, plus Stefan really knows his stuff.

First Friday and more

This Friday (as in, two days from now — yipes!), the fine people at the Hollandia International showroom in Old City are hosting some of my art work. It’s a rare opportunity to see Lauren pieces in the wild! Normally, I keep them cooped up in this little house.

I’m bringing sculptures and drawings and I’m showing alongside a painter, so there will be a nice variety of things to see. Also: very awesome, very innovative sleep systems. Also: wine.

Here’s the address:

149 North 3rd Street
Old City, Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA 19106

In preparation for the show (and in hopes of freeing some of those aforementioned pieces from captivity), I’ve launched an Etsy shop! I’ve only listed a few pieces, but I’ll be adding more in the coming weeks. Check it out here:

etsy.com/shop/laurenhallden

OK, now off to finish the rest of my to-do list, which is, hmmmm… nine more items long. Including one line that says “finish that new piece you’re working on.” Right. See you on Friday!