A new visual data program called Immersion from the MIT Media Lab invites users to hand over their Gmail address and password in exchange for seeing how they really use the Google messaging system.
The result of NSA-ing yourself, as some have come to refer to this process, is a color coded sort of word cloud in which you can see at a glance via different sized circles which people you interact with most, and more.
But do we really need a fancy program to figure out what all this metadata – the kind of data about data used by Facebook, Google and yes, the National Security Agency – to understand who we interact with online and how much?
The MIT researchers (Daniel Smilkov, Deepak Jagdish, Cesar Hidalgo) say it’s easy to lose track of this over the years, and Immersion shows how your email life has evolved. Google's Dashboard program apparently doesn't do quite enough for you:
Just like a cubist painting, Immersion presents users with a number of different perspectives of their email data.
It provides a tool for self-reflection at a time where the zeitgeist is one of self-promotion.
It provides an artistic representation that exists only in the presence of the visitor.
It helps explore privacy by showing users data that they have already shared with others.
Finally, it presents users wanting to be more strategic with their professional interactions, with a map to plan more effectively who they connect with.
Jagdish says in this video that the results are a people-centric reading of your data.
While it might seem scary to send along your Gmail particulars to MIT, note that the program generates its results using the info in your To, From, Cc fields and timestamps, but not subject lines or body text.
As a privacy mechanism, users of Immersion can choose to delete their data upon leaving the program. Immersion is under heavy use, according to a message on the homepage Wednesday, so those interested in participating can leave their email for notification of when the program can again be used.