VOLATILE NEXUS 2009 (Screen Shot) Launch

generative net.art
computer, monitor/projector, internet connection


Volatile Nexus trawls RSS news feeds and analyses each story, picking out the words that occur most frequently. On screen, each story is seen as a moving "bubble" containing the article's lead picture and a cloud of the most-used words. Whenever two stories manifest the same word, a connecting line joins them and they are pulled towards each other.
The result is that stories from different sources (BBC, CNN, Al Arabiya) reporting on the same topic will tend to cluster and stay on-screen for longer. Conversely, stories that find no connections tend to drift off-screen more quickly. This method of finding interconnections achieves relevance on many occasions but it is fuzzy enough to throw up surprising and amusing juxtapositions too.


The main components are as follows:

     RSS News Feeds >
                                  Analysis >
                                                 Generative Film

RSS News Feeds

These provide a constantly updated overview of the prevailing world news situation. Currently, the news feeds of BBC, CNN and Al Arabiya are the source. The criterion for a story being used is that it includes a picture in .jpg format. Even by deleting stories that are over 24 hours old, there tend to be over 100 news items at any one time.


The analysis is conducted by an application running on my computer. The resulting data is uploaded to my website so as to be accessible anywhere.
Once a .jpg image has been downloaded, the accompanying article is analysed. First, common words such as "and", "the", "in" are filtered out as these have little relevance to the particular topic. Then words are compared for similarities. For example, "country" and "countries" would be considered as the same word when counting the frequency of occurrence. Also, national adjectives tend to get reverted to the county name - Iranian counts as Iran. This all serves the purpose of finding a set of words that are the indicative of subject matter of news story, so that the connections appearing on screen will tend to be relevant.

Generative Film

The main constituent of the piece is the generative Flash film. This can be run in a browser from "http://tim-coe.net/volatile-nexus" or, for exhibition purposes, there is a full screen stand alone version. Additionally there is an off line version that could be run in case of a breakdown in the internet connection. However, this would only be an emergency measure as the main point of the piece is that it uses up to the minute news stories.
The story "bubbles", each showing the main image and the most frequently used words of a news item, emerge at the bottom of screen. They are constrained to movement within the left, right and bottom bounds of the screen. Thus they can escape out of the top of screen. The stories try to keep their own personal space and will bounce off each other. The only other influence on their movement comes when a word contained in one story also appears in another. A chewing gum-like connecting line appears whose thickness represents the relative frequency of the words it connects. This also dictates the strength of their spatial attraction - to what extent they are pulled towards each other. When more than one word connects two stories the connecting line is even thicker and the pull even stronger. Which words have made the connection is apparent because these expand and are pulled out of the central word cloud towards the connected story.
Often a nexus of interrelated stories develops with a web of connecting lines. The tendency of such clusters to remain longer on screen is not programmed. It seems to derive from the existing simple rules of movement in a similar way that larger molecules in a liquid will evaporate more slowly.
In the background, different images are constantly being downloaded pixel block for pixel block so that it is ever changing. The images are tinted depending on how many word connections are currently seen: many connections produce warmer, reddish colours; few connections produce colder blueish tones.
An additional feature is that by rolling the cursor over a story, the full text appears showing the source and the time and date when it was downloaded. In the browser version, clicking on a story causes the original source page to be opened in a new window.


Whilst being a visually appealing generative screen work, Volatile Nexus also serves as an information source providing an easy to grasp representation of the hundred or so news stories of the last 24 hours. The spectrum of topics is wide as each of the news feeds runs some stories of local interest. However, the hot international stories really stand out because it is these that tend to cluster, persisting on screen.

Tim Coe