Portfolio

fediverse.space

A tool to visualize decentralized social networks.

The “fediverse” is a term used to describe the set of social media servers implementing the decentralized ActivityPub protocol. There are many implementations, the most famous being Mastodon, and these can all communicate with each other. Together, these servers are creating a libre, decentralized, and more democratic alternative to social networks like Twitter.

fediverse.space is a tool to visualize communities in the fediverse. All known servers are presented as nodes on a graph, the edges between them being weighted by the amount of interaction between users on these servers. Clusters quickly emerge – for instance, servers with the same primary language will be close to each other as, for example, French speakers tend to interact with other French speakers. There are more subtle groupings, too: topics of discussion, types of users (serious vs. ironic), and political leanings all play a role.

While interesting in its own right, such a graph or “map” of the fediverse can also be used to combat online abuse. If you encounter a server that, for instance, harbors users espousing hate speech without being moderated, a tool of this sort can reveal the servers it is closest to, which are more likely to have similarly laissez-faire moderation policies.


eusay

An online democracy platform for student unions.

The student union at my alma mater, the Edinburgh University Student’s Association (EUSA), is a politically active union that takes official stances on various issues. Though I generally agreed with these stances, many of my fellow students did not – and even if they did, it was unclear to them where these political statements came from. In fact, the union hosts regular student councils (open to all students) at which anyone can put forward a proposal and all attendees vote on them. However, these student councils were poorly advertised and required more commitment than most people could spare alongside their studies.

In an attempt to alleviate this issue, a friend and I created an online voting and discussion platform. We called it eusay (pronounced “you say,” but named after the student union – EUSA) and felt very proud of the apt name. Initially prototyped at a hackathon, the project went on to win funding and a place at a summer-long incubator for tech projects to improve higher education. Our local union was very interested in this project and hired us to finalize it.

After several months of work, we opened the platform to all students at the university. It attracted hundreds of students putting forward proposals and debating them online. Our plan had always been that the most popular proposals would move forward to the student council and be ratified there, but we soon discovered that the new cadre of elected students who ran the union had little interest in this and prioritized other goals.

This taught me one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned, namely that “if you build it, they will come” does not hold true for technological solutions. Since then, I’ve learned not only to identify real needs before jumping to tech solutions but to understand how a project fits into broader political structures.


Death Quotes

An Amazon Echo skill that gives you a quote about death.

Death Quotes is an app for the Amazon Echo. Upon receiving a request like “Alexa, ask Death Quotes to tell me about death,” Alexa will read a random quote on the subject of our mortality.

Death Quotes is the first of an in-progress series of projects on our urge to deny our own mortality. Partially inspired by Ernst Becker’s book The Denial of Death, these projects aim to revive the Renaissance mantra of memento mori, but adjusted to the contemporary technology consumer.


Vegan UConn

An easy way to find vegan options at the dining halls and cafés at the University of Connecticut.

I’m an advocate of animal rights and believe that veganism is the best way to put this belief into action. My preferred form of advocacy is to make veganism as accessible as possible.

The dining halls at the University of Connecticut have excellent vegan options, but each individual canteen may not have something every day. The online menus are clunky, requiring many clicks to see what’s available across campus. Hearing my vegan friends complain about this, I built a webapp presenting these options in an interface that prioritizes user experience. It’s quick to see what’s available, and where, for your next meal.

Several years later, this webapp still has regular users (what I believe to be the majority of vegans at the university) and is seeing slow but steady growth.