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Summary:

Immersion is a program that utilizes gMail meta-data to show off your personal connections.

ImmersionMIT

If there anything we’ve learned in the last few weeks, it’s that  little things on the internet can make big statements about your life when it’s combined into a single pile. There’s a lot of those little things hidden in what many hope to be a “private space” — your email. And a small program from a group of MIT Media Lab students can mine your mail, take all those tiny things and create an artistic, disturbing and accurate picture of your life and relationships.

Hooking up to your Gmail account via a secure connection, Immersion scans accounts for metadata related specifically to the To, From, CC and Timestamp fields in emails. All of this metadata is readily available using the proper API, but not directly accessible from the mail account itself. From there, all of the data is sorted, categorized and placed into a beautiful graphic that shows all of your “collaborators” on emails, including how often all of them talk to each other.

The display itself, a series of circles with fine lines that show how different people converse with each other, is filled with colors to subtly delineate the varied social groups a user interacts with on a long-term basis. The project mines an account’s overall history, tabulating the number of emails while also showing real-time data of how many messages were sent in a given week. Users are invited to click around to different data points within the graphic, twisting and turning to uncover finite relationships.

Check out the video that shows how the program was developed below:

Sure, you may be thrilled and horrified at all of your email connections on display, but Immersion also gives users the option to delete all of their metadata, or to save it in a compressed file. However, the beauty of the data may just compel you to print it and hang it up on the wall as decor.

If nothing else, Immersion does a great job at showing users how much personal data is hiding in plain sight. With a simple click of a button and some clever code, your relationships with others can be on display and aggregated for all time — not necessarily the most comforting thought in the world of modern computing. But awareness is important, and Immersion will make you aware of how all the little things really add up.

  1. On a small scale this is a perfect illustration of what the NSA is doing on the macro level.

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  2. No link?

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  3. https://immersion.media.mit.edu/
    Though they’ve currently got heavy load and say they’ll get back to you soon if you enter your gmail in :)

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  4. Interesting story. i know they’ve been using techniques like this to measure the flows of knowledge within science (bibliometrics/scientometrics) for the last 15 years. The MIT guys actually mention this. It’s nice to see it applied in a ‘personal’ setting though.

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  5. While still in development, check out what http://www.telepathdata.com is doing. While a similar project of looking at metadata, they are taking a practical approach that can be used in every day business.

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