The idea for this project grew out of an offhand comment during class, one that Shawn suggested was interesting and one that, as I thought about it, struck me as interesting as well.

“Pichat” is an attempt to force people into creativity in two separate, and rather unrelated, ways. It is, at its core, a relatively standard AJAX-based chat interface, but instead of transmitting text back and forth, Pichat transmits images. The only text used is that necessary to identify users.

The interface is relatively simple. Using an AJAX call to google’s search API, a user may enter any valid google search string and get the first four image results that fall within a specific size class. These four results are displayed for the user to consider. If the user decides to utilize one of these images, all they need to do is click on it and it will be sent as their message to the chatroom. If none of the four images seems suitable then they must search for a different term.

There are two points of restriction here, and both of them are in some way compelling. The first is that communication is image-only. Trying to compress a thought or expression into a single image (even when given the entire internet to draw from) can be an extremely difficult and creative process, and I’d love to explore the sorts of conversations that arise in this environment. Additionally, you only get access to the top four search results from google. If none of them do what you want, rather than being able to page through to more, you must refine your search. Crafting a search string specific enough to get you what you want provides an interesting challenge as you can not simply search for something “close enough” and then dig through the pile of results manually until you find what you want.

On a down note, the code for this thing is abysmal. It’s a flat-file stored, full text-dumping PHP implementation on the back end that results in massive levels of back-end processing and bandwidth inefficiency and significant front-end inefficiency in addition to a number of interface issues that just make it ugly.

Still, it may be something you want to try out, and if you do you can play around with it at http://itp.thomas-robertson.com/liveweb/pichat/.


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