Friday, January 28, 2005

Bark: Someone Keeps Stealing My Letters...

The new Best Thing Ever.

One of the simple joys in life is rearranging magnetic letters on the front of a fridge. Now imagine doing it with another 60 or 80 people on the same (virtual) fridge. The result is extraordinary.

Just watching what happens without dragging a single letter is fascinating - as there is a multitude of different behaviours on show. Firstly, you have the people crying out for attention, simply wanting to spell their name, or a word with special meaning for them. Next, you have the Tourettes sufferers or the simply purile, who try and spell out as many profanities as possible (especially the four letter variety, because they're easy to make before someone nicks one of your letters). The most creative are the artists, who try and rearrange the letters into simple shapes, like star constellations, or who mix and match letters of different colours to create nice patterns. Then you have the tesselators, who like to arrange all the instances of the same letter DIRECTLY over one another, so that they just appear as a single letter. Another behaviour on display is downright pettiness - that spoil-sport attitude, where people just randomly pluck letters away from other people to prevent them from making words.

My favourite behaviour, however, has to be the hoarders. This plainly obsessive-compulsive behaviour manifests itself in several forms. First is the tidying instinct - grouping all the letters together in one place (typically the top left corner of the screen), then there's my favourite, the colour hoarders, who drag all the letters of a particular colour into a single pile. You can occasionally see people working in teams to make sure that all the letters of that colour get hoarded, or people will split up and take a different colour each, so that after a minute or two, the whole set of letters is grouped nicely into discrete colour coded piles.

It's fun just watching the behaviours on show evolve. Just one person starting to hoard letters can either cause a mass rebellion with people trying to stop the hoarder, or can start a chain reaction of similar co-operative behaviour. It's an obsessive-compulsive's paradise (or personal vision of Hell, depending upon how you look at it). I'm sure a trained psychologist would have a field day analysing all the different patterns of letter movement. It's a shame you can't log all the different moves made by individual users and play them back in movie file - it'd be interesting to analyse how their behaviour changes according to what other people on the screen are doing.

Have a go, and see how many of the behaviour types you can spot...
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