Something about Even Roth and Ben Engebreth’s open source project The White Glove Tracking gets under my skin, and like virtually everything else that evokes that turn of phrase, it’s not in a good way. Granted, the stated objectives sound great, which I suspect sold quite a few people initially, but just what are we looking at? Roth and Engebreth explain:
“W.G.T. is an effort to isolate just the white glove from this moment in pop-culture history. Rather then write unnecessarily complex code to find the glove in every frame of the video I am asking for the assistance of 10,060 individual internet users to simply click and drag a box around the glove in one frame. In the end this data will be shared freely for all to download, visualize, and use as an input into other digital systems.”
Now, Roth and Engebreth certainly nail what the Internet does best with this statement — engage over qualified geeks to document trivial minutia in their free time — however it remains to be seen if anything interesting will be generated from this project, and it’s not looking good for the pair. To begin with a small but important point, I can’t imagine either artist ever had any illusions that they would actually solicit the help of 10,000-plus unique users, and indeed their list of the 100 best contributers suggest that not only did they only solicit the help of a few hundred friends, but that the combined results of the top three participants exceed the number of isolated frames needed. So far W.G.T. findings show what anyone familiar with digital video editing tools would have suspected — that one person could have completed the project in less than a week. It also illustrates the self-evident point that you really don’t need too much incentive to waste a whole lot of time on the Internet.
As far as what’s been done with the data since, I have to say I haven’t noticed anyone’s done anything that approaches the realm of good visualization, and frankly, it’s not surprising given such an uninspiring pop culture reference. In the game of citing interesting entertainment phenomenon, it’s hard to go lower on the totem pole than Billy Jean, the anthem of dorm room celebrations across North America. Focusing on Jackson’s glove only adds to the banality of this project since as a Halloween party prop it comes second only to vampire teeth and witches hats in its popularity. It’s possible the artists would tell me I am a pop culture snob who is missing the point — the project glorifies the mundane — but the bottom line isn’t that the source material is too well known to be interesting, but rather, that given the project’s parameters, its commonality gives the subject matter the feel of something chosen almost at random. And that’s a big problem because it only underscores the contributer results, calling into question the rationale for asking a community to collect and work with the gathered data in the first place. As far as I can tell, the only place Roth and Engebreth’s voice shows up with any success is in their website design, and even that is pretty basic.