Have you ever wondered what the English speaking world is tweeting about God right now? Artists and Columbia University graduates Kevin Roark and Bernhard Fasenfest want to show you. The duo's new interactive piece, created under the name Carmichael Payamps, plops you into a pastel colored heaven space where all of the world's tweets concerning the Holy Father are popping up in real time.
When you first arrive at gods.website, you're greeted by a simple landing page that mysteriously asks, "Finally Helps us track what we say about God right now. Can it help us, the other way around too?" When you click enter, you're welcomed into a beautiful, cloud-filled afterworld. Quickly, bubbles begin to arrive.
After you click on one, a real time tweet that contains the word "God," "Allah," "Jehovah," "Yahweh," or "Holy Spirit" appears, accompanied by a religious background image selected from over 4,500 that the artists stockpiled.
Even though the viewer quickly becomes conscious of the general topic of the tweets, the results are often surprising. "It's simultaneously defined and undefined, it's constantly changing in terms of usage," Fasenfest said in an interview. "You have no idea what it's going to be at any given moment."
Each tweet that makes its way onto the site is filtered through language processing software, which analyzes the sentiment of the tweet, assigning it a score. The higher the score, the more positive the tweet is in nature. That score then determines whether or not the tweet is accompanied by a "positive" or "negative" image, and it also decides what sort of sound will play when it pops up on the screen.
Fasenfest created a three-layer sound structure to accompany the visuals. There's one constant tone, a set of semi random notes, and lastly notes associated with each individual tweet. The more positive a tweet, the higher pitched and more pure the sound. If the tweet is super negative, a deep, sinister sound plays. The result is a kind of constantly generating music. "Part of the idea is that you should just be able to listen to it and get a sense of what's happening," Fasenfest explained.
On the right hand side, you can check the most currently used adjectives and nouns. There's also a "total goodness on Earth," tracker, which combines all of the sentiment scores together. If you leave the site open for long enough, a couple of interesting trends begin to emerge.
For one, an overwhelming majority of the tweets are positive. For a social networking site so plagued with negativity and harassment, it's interesting to find that many people are tweeting positively about religion. The site also shows how narcissistic users are on Twitter, or at least how often they write about God in conjugation with themselves. After a while, the most frequently used nouns almost always end up being me, my, and I.
The interactive took several weeks to build, and from the start the piece wasn't just about mining social media data. "The basis of the project wasn't 'let's make something that's tracking words from Twitter and pick a word,' it was that we wanted to make a God tracker," Roark told me.
Carmichael Payamps is also responsible for David Zwirnher Online and Rain in a Room, two projects that explore similar themes as gods.website. This isn't the first time Roark has thought about Twitter and religion. He's also half of the pair behind Shane's Tweet Heaven, a site that creates a digital memorial for any Twitter user.
A word of caution: gods.website is optimized for Chrome and might not work properly if your Wifi is slow, but there's also a simpler version available on the landing page.