My MFA thesis project, ReFwdEmail, explores different ways to understand, represent, and uncover meaning about ourselves and our relationships within email. Completed in 2010, I spent 3 months researching and prototyping 9-10 different final explorations. Some of which are shown below. I was the sole contributor to the project including all visual design, print design, prototyping, research, and ideation.

Bloom moves an emergent function of email­—task management—out of the inbox and into an external, physical object. Drawing on the ideas of ubiquitous computing, this project combines an existing behavior, starring items in an inbox, with the familiar metaphor of a plant. Completely coded in Processing, I used a MIMO touchscreen to simulate the experience – there were no consumer tablets on the market yet. The iPad was released a month after I finished this prototype, the first Android tablet wasn't out until later that year.

 

Research

Methods included In contextual interviews, going a week without email (experimentation on myself), diary studies, and mechanical turk surveys. 

researchPhoto_02.jpg
researchPhoto_03.jpg
Illustration from a participant's diary study.

Illustration from a participant's diary study.

 

Data & Process

I used three sets of email data to produce my explorations. The first set of data used to generate these studies was a collection of emails taken from the week I did not check my own email: December 1, 2009 - December 7, 2009. The second dataset I used was the Enron email dataset. This dataset was much easier to access as many others have already parsed the information into a myriad of formats. I originally chose to use it as a MySQL database. The final dataset is a full scrape of my Gmail account from ~ 2004 - 2010. 

All work started with sketches, some on paper and some in code.

 

Explorations

A sample of final explorations both tangible and digital.

Each individual I emailed the most is represented as a silhouette and that silhouette is color-coded based on my original categorization system. As they walk closer to camera, my frequency of email conversations with them increased, and as they walk away frequency decreases. In the background you can see the gray shadows of people who I have emailed with but I whom never really connected with in any personal or professional way. I felt it was important to show people AS people instead of lines or numbers or even drawings. I also wanted the animation to demonstrate increasing and decreasing intimacy; the way people move into our lives, come ever closer, and then leave.

A week's worth of email as a magazine.

 
   

Tongue-in-cheek thank you note sent via postal service to one of my advisors.

Print poster of individuals emailed the most over time. Initial visualization created programmatically in Processing; poster finished in photoshop.

Tree graph of sentences scraped from email. Although I wrote the custom code myself to produce the visualization, I took inspiration directly from the ManyEyes' Word Tree visualization.

This is the a sample video of my emails laid out as a cityscape. The grid comes from day-hour based information which is additionally displayed as simple bar graphs when you load up the program. Then after a key press, you can enter the email city scape and visit individual messages... each message makes up a single cube and the opacity of the cube is determined by an algorithm loosely based off the work of Judith Donath and Fernanda Viegas at MIT's Sociable Media Lab. Brighter cubes show a more "important" email. The program was written in Processing.

If you're interested in my thesis work, drop me a line and I can send you my thesis book which documents all of my work in detail.