Ivy4Evr – automaton anxieties, entropy and potential

As I write, there is still time to register for the pilot of Ivy4Evr, the SMS drama for young people that was commissioned by Channel 4 Education, created by Blast Theory and written by me. Places are limited and to participate you must visit the actual site at www.ivy4evr.co.uk and register by midnight on 9 October.

In advance of Sunday’s launch there is not really time to reflect, let alone to really write anything and certainly not to discuss the process or any other aspect of the project in any detailed way, but perhaps there will be time to do that later anyway; here and elsewhere. A couple of talks have been offered already. Since I can’t write anything myself I thought it would make a change to string some links together for reference but also to see if anything is emerging in how others are writing about the project.

The blurb for Ivy4Evr promises that: ‘For a week she’ll tell you **everything** but,’ it asks, ‘can she trust you and what will you tell her? Sign up and Ivy will text you about her life. If you text her back she will chat to you.’

The Social Uproar blog (‘Helping charities and non profits use social media’) are typical of much early coverage, giving Ivy4Evr some excellent announcement space. Other writers pick up on the project’s stated interactivity.

Katie Bacon at Youth Work Online (‘Exploring youth engagement in a digital age’) featured Ivy4Evr and one of Katie’s readers responded by using the comments function to ask, ‘who will be on the other end of the phone to talk to [young people] about sex, drugs etc.’ Katie followed up this query by asking Blast Theory for more information. She received and posted a detailed summary which included these two sentences:

The project uses an automated system where SMS messages are generated by the SMS engine. There is no person involved [my emphasis] in the sending of SMS to the registered participants.

Similar anxieties emerge at the Mobile Industry Review where Ewan McLeod also wonders aloud about the nature and the workings of the project:

All you have to do to participate is sign-up to get free text updates from Ivy. Then, I imagine, you can reply to her. Or to the production team sitting watching their SMS console.

It’s a great image, ‘the production team’ at their consoles, thumbing away furiously and replying on behalf of Ivy to every text that comes in. Given the number of potential participants, and the week-long, real-time nature of this pilot episode, for Ewan’s vision to really be the case we’d have needed some vast call-centre with a player:operative ratio of around 1:1. Ewan has signed up and promised to tell us how it goes.

Both writers’ anxieties conjure up visions of Ivy as a contemporary equivalent of Wolfgang Von Kempelen’s ‘Mechanical Turk’ from 1770 — an apparent automaton but one that was in fact operated live and in real time by a person who hid in the rather bulky cabinet beneath.

Ivy is not like that. Not at all.

Some comments that appear following posts about Ivy are themselves automated, like this obviously ‘commentbot’-generated* non sequitur to a post by Carly Bennett that appeared on her blog, Writing from the Tub – My life as a writer in Bath:

‘Dissertation Writing service’ said… Despite the bulk of information online we often fail to get the specific information which is needed this post is good & contains relevant information that I was in quest of .I appreciate your efforts in preparing this post.

Elsewhere Alastair Shortland on Facebook took a more user-centric approach, asking the Ivy4Evr page: ‘Will you also be using MMS [Multimedia Messaging Service]? Will the SMS messages contain links to images or web content? Guess I should just wait and see ;-)’

Some reflect on the fact that texts sent to Ivy are charged at the normal network rates, while others realise that because they live outside the UK they will not be able to participate. We’re sorry about that too.

Last night I had an email from my friend Drazen Pantic. I’ve known Drazen since 2001 when I commissioned various writings to accompany the seminal CODE Conference (‘Collaboration and Ownership in the Digital Economy’) at which he was a speaker. Drazen is a native of Belgrade, Serbia, where in 1995 he founded OpenNet, the internet department of Radio B92 in Belgrade and Serbia’s first internet service provider. In 1999 Drazen Pantic was given the Pioneer Award of the Electronic Frontier Foundation for his use of new media technologies to counter political repression in the former Yugoslavia. He is now based in New York where he continues to explore, promote and create tools for free and open media.

Drazen sent me a link to a very nice online tool called YouReputation, which is,

a viral reputation scanner, based on on [an] innovative mathematical engine and Internet technology. YouReputation scans static and dynamic Web and social networks according to a given query (name, URL, combination of words) and computes viral entropy and viral potential for the query and identifies most viral sources with their Bayesian probabilities.

I love the idea of mapping entropy and potential. As I write this Ivy4Evr has a ‘viral probability’ of 0.483.

I will monitor our progress during the week, and try and speak with Drazen to find out more about his viral reputation scanner, how to read it. For now though, the YouReputation engine and accompanying blurb feels like an apt metaphor for a moment that I have come to recognise just pre-publication of a book, for example, when anything might happen, when entropy and potential are poised, entwined and waiting for the moment when the game starts.


Ivy4Evr launches on 10 October 2010.

Sign up and Ivy will text you about her life.

If you text her back she will chat to you.

To register visit http://www.ivy4evr.co.uk

Follow Ivy on Twitter – http://twitter.com/ivy4evr

Join Ivy’s Facebook Fanpage – http://www.facebook.com/ivy4evr

Follow Drazen Pantic and his YouReputation experiment on Twitter http://twitter.com/openplayer

*For information about my own commentbot experiment see an earlier post, ‘Knowledge Commons #3’, from 21 April 2001.