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Looking for answers with an ear to the street and an eye to the crowd

My "things-I-don’t -know" list is shorter today, thanks to rubbing elbows with some of the Web’s elite.

Seeing the intersection of where data meets art was one of the most interesting sessions of the recent three-day WebbyConnect Summit (www.webbyconnect.com). Aaron Koblin, of the Google Creative Labs, transforms data from text messaging in Amsterdam, Holland, into animated displays that convey their impact visually.

The time stamp and location of every text message sent during the preparation for the "Queen’s Day" holiday reaches a crescendo on the day of the event. Koblin used the same geographic area to illustrate the volume of text messages sent on New Year’s Eve. The explosion that shoots from the center of the city at midnight tells me that thumbs on keypads is replacing lips on loved ones as a way to ring in the new year. The experiments are part of the Current City (www.currentcity.org) project, which Koblin is part of. Current City is the work of a Dutch Foundation, which aims to turn fundamental research into useful applications.

Its Web site includes this statement of their vision:

"We believe that our technology is mature to solve real-world problems and create innovative new applications in multiple markets:

• How many people are there in that area? (Crowd management.)

• Where is traffic piling up? (Mobility analysis and forecasting.)

• What percentage of people has left that area? (Evacuation support, event management.)

• What is the current demand for public transportation? (Public transport management.)

• How many people will look at that billboard? (Marketing and city advertisement.)

• What is the pattern of inflow and outflow of people from the city? (Urban planning.)

• What’s the hottest spot in town right now? (Entertainment.)

The text messaging project is an example of using data to measure what’s happening in a city in real time.

Koblin also created a series of animated representations of the flight patterns of all domestic flights during a 24-hour period. Watch the routes paint the border of the country and follow the dotted lines from Europe as the day progresses. His work, along with that of many others, was part of a recent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, titled "Design and the Elastic Mind." You can visit the online gallery for the show at (www.moma.org/exhibitions/2008/elasticmind/).

You can read more about WebbyConnect discoveries on my Tidbits blog (www.lvrj.com/blogs/onlineguy).

Share your Internet story with me at agibes@reviewjournal.com.

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