AOL Search Data Slip-up Inspires “I Love Alaska”

Sometimes, as you’re walking through a crowded street, or as you brush by people, you catch a glimpse of the conversations they’re having – a few words, a single sentence at most. Whenever this happens, I can’t help but extrapolate the rest of the conversation, the subject, what the people in it are like. It seems like I’m not the only one, as two Dutch film makers have used the accidentally leaked search query records of 2006 as inspiration for a series of short films. Tantalising voyeurism.

In August 2006, AOL Research accidentally released a compressed text file containing the search queries of over 650000 users, made over a three month period. A privacy nightmare, but also an invaluable resource for people interested in what people are searching for on the internet.

Two Dutch film makers, Sander Plug and Lernery Engelberts, used the search queries of user 711391, and turned them into a series of short videos titled “I Love Alaska“. The videos are deceptively simple, with a computerised voice reading aloud the individual search queries in chronological order, supported by shots of Alaska landscapes.

Out of these individual queries, a picture starts to form in your imagination, a picture of who user 711391 is, what she does, the problems she faces, the choices she has to make; you get three second snapshots of her life, and it’s your job to fill in the blanks. It’s kind of like my single-sentence voyeurism.

I Love Alaska – Episode 1/13 from SubmarineChannel on Vimeo.

Thirteen episodes have been released so far, and while they’re though to sit through, your voyeuristic self is sure to keep you going. At the same time, it makes you wonder: what if my search queries ever made it online? How would other people fill in my blanks?


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