Computing Digital Traces - From IDSA noLA

We recently returned from a great IDSA conference in New Orleans, our team had the opportunity to hear from many influential speakers on the topic of Community. On the opening day we heard about “Attitudes and Behaviors”, which explored in depth, ever shifting consumer behaviors.

One of the keynote speakers Aaron Zinman, co-founder of Boston-based Empirical LLC, showed some great and influential projects that aim to capture digital traces of users as they traverse the web. His work uses systems to aggregate and mine these traces, to expose both the individual and the community.

A sample of these projects include Defuse and Personas.

Defuse creates and illustrates data portraits of New York Times readers by tracking their comments and positions.  uses the content of the New York Times comments section to track user's comments and information associated with their positions. 

 Defuse is a new method for navigating and participating in online discussions. It generates data portraits of users and groups based upon their digital footprints.


Personas, now on display at the MIT Museum, takes a name entered by the user and characterizes that person based on information it finds on the web. See our own Richard Watson characterized below. 

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.


Tools like Defuse have the potential to help understand a broad range of consumers. The traces of users' interactions can help generate findings that can be incorporated in the design process and drive potential design solutions.

Stay tuned for more interesting finds from our trip to the 2011 IDSA conference.