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Carolin Horn, Florian Jenett
DMI Boston
Project Description:
Anymails is a visualization piece of Carolin Horn's received emails. Carolin has investigated how to use natural metaphors to visualize an email inbox, its inherent structure and attributes. The metaphor of microbes is what Carolin used for the Anymails project, developed during her MFA thesis "Natural Metaphor for Information Visualization?" at the Dynamic Media Institute Boston in 2007. As she explains: "My objective is to offer the user another experience of his email world".

The emails are categorized in six person groups: family and friends, school, job, e-commerce, unclassified, and spam. These are then represented by six species of microbes, different in color and form. For instance, all received emails from school are blue and look a bit like croissants. An entire system of shapes and behaviors was created to reflect every property of a common email message. The age of an email, for example, is shown by the size and opacity of the animal, while its status (unread, read, responded) is shown by two animal attributes: the number of hair/feet and velocity. An unread email is hairy and swims fast; a read email has less hair and does not swim so fast anymore; a responded email is hairless and barely moves. Another interesting functionality of the tool (represented here) is the ability to group emails, according to user preferences, in unique strings of relatedness.

The emails used in the prototype are read from the user's local Apple Mail database. The prototype was built with Flash and Processing.

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