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OFFF 2012 — Jonathan Harris

The absolute highlight of this year’s OFFF festival for me was getting to see Jonathan Harris.

Harris is a designer, thinker and storyteller whose projects are often highly conceptual and ambitious. He strives to change the world for the better through design and storytelling.

He opened his talk, with an overview of his (by now well-known) 2006 project, We Feel Fine — in which the internet is scraped for uses of the term “I feel…” in a bid to gauge how the world is feeling at any given time. This still holds up as an amazing piece of work.

But since this and other data driven projects, Harris has gradually and consciously moved on a different path, believing that there is only so much you can learn from data.

In 2010, he released his Today project in which he took a photo every day for a year — an original idea at the time, which has since been mimicked to the point of overkill.

This, along with The Whale Hunt give a good sense of the importance of storytelling in Harris’ work.

He’s also openly taking a step away from the ubiquity of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, believing that they lead to a short attention span and neverending pursuit of novelty over depth of experience. Instead he wants to develop platforms that engage and tell real warts-and-all human stories.

His current work Cowbird, a storytelling platform tries to do just this. It is described as “a simple tool for telling stories, and a public library of human experience.”

So, no less ambitious than his earlier projects then.

Further recommended reading/viewing

Cowbird And Humanizing The Web
A recent Jonathan Harris talk about Cowbird and his approach/philosophy.

(It’s worth checking out his other talks too).

Modern Medicine by Jonathan Harris — a brilliant, thoughtful essay drawing comparisons between software and medicine (way more interesting than it sounds!).

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