Net@Work

Sharing desire, open source zealots, web cooperation, decentralized bottom-up power… It all sounds very much 1990s, doesn’t it? But how about global collectivism? On May 2009, Kevin Kelly wrote this essay on Wired US in which, with a clear-headed vision, he theorizes that a new form of Socialism is born and that its natural place is in fact a virtual one: the Internet, where the global collectivist society is emerging.

According to Kelly, the leaders of this Socialist evolution, or rather collectivist evolution, are both the websites and the on-line masses who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, who contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge. To sort through these new social arrangements, Kelly avails himself of an useful 4-step-hierarchy (originally suggested by Clay Shirky in his 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody). The essence of it is quite easy:

“Groups of people start off simply sharing and then progress to cooperation, collaboration, and finally collectivism. At each step, the amount of coordination increases.”

So, maybe an unsolvable mystery is now spinning through your minds: what has it got to do with DensityDesign?
Here’s the solution.
The folks at Wired Italy came to us some time ago with the idea to map 300 websites which could be somehow representative of the four Kelly/Shritky’s categories. They provided us a list of the 300 websites, each one classified as a sharing, cooperative, collaborative or collectivist website and then they asked: “Could you please take Kelly’s analysis and interpret it somehow visualizing these 300 websites?”. Answer: “Sure”.

And this is nothing else but the story of how we began to build the collective world described by Kevin Kelly. The final project is called ‘Net@Work’ and it was published on the Italian edition of Wired Magazine on May 2010.

In this project, we merged two main ideas we’d like to discuss about.

The working-class robots

The choice of representing the websites as robots is obviously a metaphor, which came from some Russian 1930-40′s posters. But besides the visual metaphor, most of our work consisted to shape every single robot/website according to 4 different numeric variables. Indeed, for every website of the 300 we had, we got economic value, number of unique visitors, age and worldwide ranking position (provided by Alexa): our idea was to transform numbers in visual qualities, that is to display multivariate data in the shape of the robots. Yes, it’s yet another reinterpretation of the Chernoff faces.
In this framework, we developed a little software which helped us to calculate the values needed to obtain 300 different robots in which the anatomical proportions were affected in this way:

  • trunk width » the economic value of a website;
  • head size » the amount of users;
  • saturation » age of the website (the oldest ones are less saturated, that is gray and pale);
  • overall height » the worldwide ranking position (the more the website is high ranked, the more the robot is tall).

The visual concept

Landscape+Language.
Producing a visual concept is a matter of truly understanding information, data and knowledge we are asked to communicate: after this, we usually choose the right language with which we can reach the audience. This path helps us to bend visual languages and expressive forms to data, and not vice-versa.

To choose the right visual language we often take inspiration from the past. Instead of passively joining current trends of info-visualization driven by theme, we prefer to go back to the debut of that theme in social discussion, and look at the works produced when, for the first time, people were thinking about issues that are comparable to ours. Indeed, for “Net@Work” the inspiration came from the working class ideal of the Russian socialism and, regarding the inner structure, the inspiration came from the organization chart of a ’40s/’50s company, found on the book “Monogrammi e figure” by Giovanni Anceschi.
In the background we wanted to give the viewer a glimpse of the possible world in which the robots work together to build the greatest of the robot which they could live in (the ultimate form of collectivism), from the sharing phase, through cooperation and collaboration steps. In this sense, the landscape overview configures itself as the best point of view.