Microsoft does Digital Humanities?

MITH Digital Dialogue
Tin Cupping for Plutonium: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mothership
Donald Brinkman, Microsoft Research
2012 September 10, 12:30-1:45pm

So a while ago there was this really interesting DH speaker, Donald Brinkman from Microsoft Research, who was presenting his work on this AIDS Quilt Project at a MITH Digital Dialogue. The first interesting topic that he brought up was the Ribbon Hero add-in / game for Microsoft Office products. It is intended to help individuals improve their Microsoft Office Skills. Sounds fun and kinda nerdy-cool. I’ve downloaded it to my work computer and am interested in seeing how it can help me improve my Office skills. (This was off topic from the main point of the discussion).

Microsoft Research took on the AIDS Quilt project because they were asking themselves “What’s the big deal with big data?” Brinkman argued that big data doesn’t necessarily mean deep data. Big Data can’t define love, grief, disease, etc… He then brought up a really cool graph displaying the previous concepts frequency of use over time using a Google Fusion Table. I think it was a Google Fusion Table, I just remember thinking ‘isn’t it traitorous for a Microsoft employee to use Google?’ Since then I’ve begun reading up on Google Fusion Tables and trying to figure out if I can use one in a project at some point before I graduate. Some cool examples of fusion tables can be found here.

Anyways, Brinkman’s project developed / adapted software to display the AIDS Quilt on the web. The AIDS Quilt was begun in 1987 and currently has more than 4,600 quilts. Housed @ the Smithsonian, the AIDS Quilt is an amazing example of both art as activism and crowd sourcing. Given that it is the quilt’s 25th anniversary the AIDS quilt was featured prominently in this summer’s Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. For the festival a scholar from USC wanted to create a large art display of all the quilts online so Microsoft Research (& ‘the garage’), Brown, Cal, University of Iowa, University of Moscow (there might be others I am forgetting/didn’t get written down) participated in adapting chronozoom (built by Cal & Microsoft Research) which allows the quilt to be displayed in its entirety but also to zoom in and see each individual quilt.

The project was completed and set up for the Smithsonian’s Folk Life Festival which was available on location with touch screen / table top monitors allowing individuals to see the entire quilt and to search the quilt for the names of those they knew. There was also a prototype app for Bing maps that allowed searchers to find the location of a specific quilt on display in D.C. I could have some of the above summary completely wrong here as this part of the presentation felt really scattered, but not in a bad way. It was just obvious that Brinkman was incredibly passionate about the project, had done a ton of work on it, that there were many different parts to it. Passion and excitement overrode clarity for an outsider like me.

Microsoft Research is interested in more DH projects that:
  1. Examine Deep Data
  2. Partners passionate about their topic
  3. Requiring cool tech (software platforms that enrich research)
  4. (Plutonium – free labor, $ (have it or need it?), hardware donations, etc). – I didn’t really get the reference here

Overall it was a really interesting project and I found the results incredibly impressive.

Have a great day and keep smiling! :)


Unknown said…

I'm amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that's both educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that too few folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this during my search for something relating to this. yahoo mail sign in