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The analog twitter wall at re:publica 2012

For re:publica, one of Europe’s biggest conferences about social media, blogging and the digital society, we created an analog twitter wall. Here’s a short video documenting the project.


(Ein Gastbeitrag von precious forever)

re:publica without a twitter wall would be like a church without a cross, html without <a> or The Beatles sans Lennon. So, like last year, the twitter wall was a central piece of the design concept we developed for the conference.

Inspired by the conference theme “Action!”, one of the first images that came to our minds were people doing something physical, getting their hands dirty, sweating. At an event were the majority of attendees is looking at their laptops or smart phones constantly – blogging, tweeting, emailing – we didn’t want to add more screens to stare at. Instead we wanted to bring the virtual to the physical space and create some visible action.

Printing out tweets and pasting them on a wall was one of the first ideas we had and it stuck with us. It actually became the core of the whole design concept, our leitmotif. Everything else we developed for the conference – signage, video trailer, stage design etc – derived from this idea.

Our concept was rather sketchy when we requested “a wall as big as possible in the most visible spot”, but thankfully the re:publica team trusted us enough to erect a 14 x 3 meter scaffolding construction in the central area of the location. To be honest, we were a bit surprised when we realized – two days prior to the event – what 42 square meters look like in real life (a lot bigger than 3d-simulations on a screen suggest).

Since we had no chance to test-drive the whole thing, we were quite nervous when the door opened, the first people arrived and tweets with the #rp12 hashtag poured in. But everything went fine. The software ran smoothly, the printer was fast enough and paper jams were rare. The human element of our workflow performed even better. The volunteers who pasted the sheets on the wall were all highly motivated, some of them even wanted to extend their 6-hour shift.

Even though everything worked out as planned, there was something beyond our control: the reactions of 4000 attendees. Will people get the idea? Will they like it? Our concerns vanished pretty quickly when we saw how people interacted with the wall. Not only did they gather in front of it to read the tweets – often with a smile on their face. A lot of them even photographed printed tweets and… well… posted them on Twitter. Actually, the twitter wall became the most photographed motif of the whole conference.
It was also interesting to see how a quick and transient medium like Twitter feels like when manifested. Since it took about 6 hours to fill the wall, the tweets survived relatively long compared to the usual twitter walls, where they often appear only for a few seconds. The massive wall and the familiar size of DIN A4 sheets also visualized the enormous amount of data far better than an abstract digital representation could. Although these aspects were something we aimed for when developing this installation, we were still surprised about the impact it had on us. Size, in this case, really does matter.

A project like this is always a team effort. Thankfully we had a lot of help and support to make it happen. We bow in gratitude to the Actionists, who pasted sheet after sheet after sheet. Props to raumlabor, the architects, who integrated the twitter wall perfectly in their spatial concept. Thanks to re:publica for providing the playground.

The whole project wouldn’t have been possible without the vast pool of amazing open source software, especially Node.js and Processing. For a more in-depth explanation of how we achieved the project, have a look at this blog post from our developer Michael Schieben.

The music in the video was made by Nikolai von Sallwitz. If you need a sound designer for your next project, this is your guy.

Anmerkung re:publica: Vielen Dank an precious, die die Idee hatten. Danke auch an die Unterstützung durch unsere Partner Linotype – die uns mit tollen Webfonts versorgt haben – und Hornbach.