Jonathan Harris Debuts Cowbird

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Artist/programmer Jonathan Harris has found plenty of ways to capture preserve memories and emotion from life's most fleeting moments with his various projects. We Feel Fine, for example, interprets people's emotions from various blog postings to get a bigger picture of the how the world is feeling, at any given moment. Today, Harris officially debuted Cowbird, a platform that hopes to unite storytellers in the process of deeply documenting not just their own lives, but the larger overarching sagas around them.

Cowbird is Harris' "labor of love" and was created after more than two years, 145,000 lines of code and "one Icelandic grass hut, one night in jail, one serving of jellied ram's testicles with fermented shark meat, and countless pieces of toast with orange marmalade," he says in an email to his fans. It aims to be a platform for the sort of longer, richer and multilayered stories you're not going to find on the web via typical social media platforms. "We're trying to preserve and evolve the dying art of storytelling using technology as friend instead of foe," the site states.


Like Harris' previous endeavors, Cowbird taps individual experiences to depict a richer, more meaningful picture of our collective experience. Potential Cowbirders must request an invite and provide a bit of background before the join--presumably a way to weed out genuine storytellers versus those looking for an alternative forum for their throwaway beach shots or party pics. Once they're in, they can document their own lives with public or private diaries, using words, pictures and audio. Videos can't be uploaded at the moment, but they may become part of the platform eventually.

But those individual tales then become aggregated into the fabric of larger "sagas" going on in the world, like The Occupy Movement, which, at the moment, appears to be the most heavily documented event on the site. Cowbird works by finding the connections between each member's stories and combining them into a collective tale of any given event. The stories are organized and can be explored in various ways-in timeline form, via location or by "characters," the users themselves.

Cowbird was so dubbed to represent the best characteristics of its namesakes: "the slow, deeply rooted contemplative idea of a cow with the fast, efficient playful idea of a bird."

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