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Twittering labs? That is just so last year…

28 May 2008 4 Comments

mars phoenix twitter stream

The Mars Phoenix landing has got a lot of coverage around the web, particularly from some misty eyed old blokes who remember watching landings via the Mosaic browser in an earlier, simpler age. The landing is cool, but one thing I thought was particularly clever was the use of Twitter by JPL to publicise the landing and what is happening on a minute to minute basis. Now my suspicion is that they haven’t actually installed Twhirl on the Phoenix Lander and that there is actually a person at JPL writing the Tweets. But that isn’t the point. The point is that the idea of an instrument (or in this case a spacecraft) outputting a stream of data is completely natural to people. The idea of the overexcited lander saying ‘come on rocketsssssss!!!!!!!!’ is very appealing (you can tell it’s a young spaceship, it hasn’t learnt not to shout yet; although if your backside was at 2,000 °C you might have something to say about it as well).

I’ve pointed out some cool examples of this in the past including London Bridge and Steve Wilson, in Jeremy Frey’s group at Southampton, has been doing some very fun stuff both logging what happens in a laboratory, and blogging that out to the web, using the tools developed by the Simile team at MIT. The notion of the instrument generating a data stream and using that stream as an input to an authoring tool like a laboratory notebook or into other automated processes is a natural one that fits well both with the way we work in the laboratory (even when your laboratory is the solar system) and our tendency to anthropomorphise our kit. However, the day the FPLC tells me it had a hard night and doesn’t feel like working this morning is the day it gets tossed out. And the fact that it was me that fed it the 20% ethanol is neither here nor there.

Now the question is; can I persuade JPL to include actual telemetry, command, and acknowledgement data in the twitter stream? That would be very cool.