Phillip Mendonça-Vieira

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instagram for fun and profit

October 22, 2013

Back in December 2011, I was approached by Michael Joffe to make something happen for the early 2012 installment of his dance party art things, this one being called “Oui Paris”.

So, I stuck together some bits of ruby and javascript and made “audiogram”, an instagram feed that updates in real time, and Michael threw a dance party around it.

The folks at the Brockton Collective were awesome and created a timelapse of the whole thing:

A couple of times I had to drunkenly climb a ladder and troubleshoot it. (Here is more proof that I was there).

Michael longed for something deeply interactive that would directly engage with the crowd. I’d always wanted an excuse to play with the instagram api and the rest was covered in NOW Magazine:

In order to do so, the organizers have implemented an interactive element that they’ve deemed “the world’s first Instagram music visualizer”. With the help of developer Phillip Mendonça-Vieira, they’ve created a display wall that will project partygoer’s pictures in real time, in the ersatz nostalgic haze of the Instagram photo app. All you need to participate is a smart phone1.

“Instagram has become a huge part of sharing life experiences… and in a way it tells much more of a story than a status update,” Joffe explains. “So with this party we wanted to do an experiment wherein a tool that is used to share experiences becomes the reason for the event itself.”

The event was a success; apparently something like 400 people2 showed up on a cold January night. The whole thing ended up being one of the coolest things I’ve done to date.

Most importantly, people seem to have had a good time.

Neat. What did the app look like?

I’m glad you asked. This video will give you the general idea:

The reason I am writing about this now, in 2013, is because I never got around to making the above recording until a few months ago. I don’t understand why, or what overcame me, it really wasn’t that much work3.

Some people really took a liking to it, and the app has since been used in a conference party, a corporate holiday party, a wedding, a winter music festival series, and a sexy aids fundraising dance party4.

Cool. What did you use to make it?

I wrote a little sinatra thing that spat out new instagram photos when asked. I put down a layer of masonry and wrapped it together with jmpress.js. It works surprisingly well: new photos show up within five seconds of being posted.

The waterfall effect was achieved by prepending new instagram thumbnails in a div taller than the screen; masonry does the rest. I also remove elements a couple rows below the fold as a crude form of garbage collection. Without it, Chrome quickly starts to run out of memory.

I was reticent to accept Michael’s invitation. I wasn’t sure if I could put together something that was cool enough5 and as a result it only really came together the week before the party date. Overall, I spent about five nights poking at it and one long evening and an afternoon frantically making it work.

In the process I wrote some of the most terrible javascript ever committed to disk. I’ve since rewritten all the ruby a couple of times over, but that javascript remains inscrutable because I really don’t want to touch it. That javascript is why I haven’t linked to the github page. I’ve gotten a lot better at it since then.

What did you learn from this experience?

Telling the bouncer to let your friends skip a huge line feels pretty cool6.

I think to this day, event and location apps are underexplored. Something to facilitate documentation and increase serendipity. I think my phone could someday output significantly more whimsy into my life.

The barrier to making something neat can be surprisingly low; the important thing is to play with it and see what you can make. I’ve been terrible at following this advice.

tl;dr if someone asks you to write software for a dance party, say yes.

  1. It was the beginning of 2012; smart phones were common but not yet ubiquitous and instagram had only recently become a thing and it was cool and exciting and and no one thought it was going to be worth one billion dollars.

  2. Per the Brockton Collective’s writeup. Michael wrote about it here.

  3. Oh, and the #ouiparis photos that pop up are obviously not from the dance party. In the preceeding year and a half, other people have begun to use #ouiparis. I love this kind of stuff, unique and obscure events buried away in tags. I feel there is one great short sci fi story in me where a crucial bit of plot stems around a 14 month old foursquare checkin someone made at a house party.

  4. It was seriously overshadowed by the burlesque, the vigorous dancing, and the fact that nobody wore pants.

  5. Without any advance notice, he put my name on the facebook event and the event listings he got into the alt-weeklies, and by then it was too late for me to wuss out.

  6. Me, pointing: “Would it be cool if they came straight in?”,
    Extremely Nice Bouncer Guy: “Dude, it’s your party.”

# 2013-10-22