Sunday, July 7, 2013

What your metadata says about you

Metadata is data about other data—basically, everything except the actual content of your phone call or email.

For César Hidalgo, the national conversation about metadata couldn’t come too soon. A professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Hidalgo has been obsessed with communications metadata for years. To him, metadata isn’t merely a technical issue, or a political one, but an emotional one—a cloud of knowledge about your behavior that, once you confront it, can literally change your life.

To make metadata more visceral, he and a group of graduate students are launching a new online project to help people visualize their own metadata, or at least one small corner of it. The program, called “Immersion,” asks users for their Gmail address and password; it then scans every e-mail in their accounts and scrapes the metadata to create a portrait of their personal network. With the circles and lines of a network diagram, it highlights the 100 people with whom you’ve communicated most, and shows how closely they’re connected to you and how thickly interconnected with one another in your mailbox.


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