December 8, 2005
Swarmsketch is a fascinating experiment in harnessing the "collective consciousness" of the Web to create collaborative drawings. Each drawing is composed of up to 1000 individual strokes, each contributed by a different user; users can also vote on the weighting of each previous stroke, leading to a cumulative judgment about the final contours of the image.
The images have a haunting, foreboding quality. They feel like voices of the id, emerging from somewhere deep in our shared limbic system. It is terrible (and occasionally terrifying) art, but what's remarkable is that the art even happens. As Dr. Johnson said, in another context, about watching a dog walk on its hind legs: "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
We could also look at these images as a useful metaphor for the alleged virtues of collective intelligence on the Web. They are flailing, imperfect and, well, sketchy renditions that cast a startling relief on the limitations of groupthink. While they certainly reveal something about the collective mind, that something feels deeply unsatisfying, and somehow troubling.
What Swarmsketch is to drawing, tagging is to cataloging.
File under: User Experience_____________________
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