What's in a name?  July 20, 2011   ยป

Does color alter meaning? Or does it reinforce it? Chicken meet egg. How much do we relate objects to color? And what does it mean for the non-synaesthetes among us to see something like the smell of burnt toast turned into a color? Using Flickr and some software algorithms, can we define and name our color universe? Naming things does seem to change our opinion of them. And it's true that certain colors are associated with somewhat abstract ideas like Autumn, or the Fourth of July, or fast cars.

These are some of the larger questions that a new beta site called "the color of" begins to ask. "The color of" is Fung Kwok Pan's attempt to "find the color of anything" by means of an averaging algorithm interpreting tagged Flickr images. Pretty ingenious in its own way. (I'm already wondering how to do this in Processing; pretty convinced it's doable.)

In any case, I had some fun with it last night. And given my interest in language, psychology and design, tied with my desire to see how far I might be able to push both Flickr's folksonomic tagging and Fung Kwok Pan's algorithm, I present to you 7 images. They constitute a series I'm calling "From pft to pffffffft."







The variations seem to begin to average out the greater the number of f's I add. Perhaps at a later date I'll try to see if I can break the algorithm entirely, but I have a feeling that there are a significant number of Flickr folks who believe you can't have too many f's in your pffft.


I wrote several months ago about the degree to which color influences our lives. With this new endeavor, I wonder will you try to imagine what the color of breakfast might be? Or what color happy is? Or nonplussed?

There are so many variables. What I've discovered using "the color of" site is that people cannot be depended upon to deliver any sort of predictable or rational tagging structure; they often supply seemingly random tags for images. This may indicate that our attempt at computational natural language acquisition is seriously troubled. We may never construct the perfect chatbot because emotional inflection and affective nuance pervade our language use and interpretation. You have only to look left to see a representation of those concepts.

Nonetheless, "the color of" is an intriguing exercise and one that would lend itself to all sorts of additional sensory experiments, e.g., what's the smell of the color pink? Or what does orange feel like? Or how does midnight sound? &c.

The world is a vast place and we have miles to go before we sleep.

Carla Casilli Talk to me at cmcasilli at gmail dot com.