Personas: How the Internet sees you

Published: September 8th, 2009

 After all the tweets, the status updates, the reports filed, the e-mails sent, you have to wonder what it all adds up to.

One answer comes from Personas, a project being exhibited at the MIT Museum as part of a show called Metropath(ologies) that wraps up on Wednesday. I don’t think I can describe it any better than this:

Enter your name, and Personas scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person – to fit them to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive corpus of data. The computational process is visualized with each stage of the analysis, finally resulting in the presentation of a seemingly authoritative personal profile.

In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer’s uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant.

The simplicity of the application rivals that of Google. After I entered my name, it began whirring through what seemed like a vast array of information:
 
 

As time went on — the whole thing took probably a full five minutes, which felt longer — you started to see the results being refined:

 

Until finally, the end result:

 

Not that bad, really, though there are a few areas that seem a bit odd. Am I really only marginally into fashion? And what’s with the military stuff? Of course, I’m fairly active online, so there’s a fair bit of material to work with. The average IT manager might be more behind the scenes.

Perhaps it’s better to use Personas as a way of thinking about how users see you, rather than how the Internet sees you. Oral histories may be dying off, but human relationships continue to be the key to success in almost any present-day endeavor. If you can determine what kind of output other people in your organization would come up with if they were asked about you and they fail to match your own, it’s time to do something about it.

 

 

As time went on — the whole thing took probably a full five minutes, which felt longer — you started to see the results being refined:

Until finally, the end result:

Not that bad, really, though there are a few areas that seem a bit odd. Am I really only marginally into fashion? And what’s with the military stuff? Of course, I’m fairly active online, so there’s a fair bit of material to work with. The average IT manager might be more behind the scenes.

Perhaps it’s better to use Personas as a way of thinking about how users see you, rather than how the Internet sees you. Oral histories may be dying off, but human relationships continue to be the key to success in almost any present-day endeavor. If you can determine what kind of output other people in your organization would come up with if they were asked about you and they fail to match your own, it’s time to do something about it.



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