Friday, February 1

Guilt or pleasure? Infographics convert from one to another

We Make Money Not Art today briefly mentioned two projects from infographics specialist Michael Mandiberg I've taken a closer look at, Oil Standard and Real Costs, both plugins for Mozillas Firefox web browser. Oil Standard converts US currency amounts into their worth in barrels of crude, a simple premise with it's strength lying in the connectedness of the internet. Running online and using RSS feeds, prices are converted in real-time, rising and falling with the world markets. They're also personalised - the concept becomes much more concrete when it appears over an iPod you're buying online or your own credit card transactions.

Real Costs operates in the same way, albeit on a list of very limited travel websites such as, JetBlue, and Orbitz. Translating jet miles to kg of CO2 directly on the page, that trip from LA to NYC loses some of it's glamour. The plugin does go further than literal guilt tripping however, providing a range of alternatives like public transport, carbon offsets, and carpools.

But is it all a little too earnestly green? Perhaps. Mandiberg hopes the user might shift "from passive consumer to engaged citizen." With the lack of public transport in the US and the large distances between cities, RL might just have the opposite affect - causing apathy and a sense of helplessness in users. After all, who's wants to spend a few days and nights in a Greyhound bus to make the trek across country? Oil Standard seems simpler, more sinister, and - with the addition of live news feeds from - much more real. Viewed as an art project, the latter is successful precisely because it doesn't prescribe. Instead it causes a vague but definite malaise in the user, and leaves them to work out any concrete actions or lifestyle changes.

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