OneSixty Characters

This is an old post I wrote while I was working on OneSixty Characters and was published online at ARC UNSW’s, The College Voice, Volume 3, issue 3 – Summer 2005

I’m currently working on a project entitled OneSixty Characters, to be exhibited at Electrofringe in Newcastle from 22nd September to 8th October, and eventually online later in the year. The work began with a call-out for people to SMS me a nursery rhyme that accompanies a childhood game. I have posted far and wide to national and international online networks asking people to visit my website This site contains a mobile phone number that you SMS your rhyme to, and a form that you fill out to explain your rhyme and game. I have asked people to SMS in any language, hoping that I will get more than just English language responses.

Text messaging has already changed language through abbreviation and emoticons and I’m interested in how people will use OneSixty Characters to re-tell stories. How will this compare in languages other than English? What will this look like? The project has the potential to involve all kinds of people – both artists and non-artists – in a cultural exchange that uses modern technology to transcend boundaries. These are some of the questions I am hoping to answer…

The results have been interesting and not at all what I expected. I was prepared to be bombarded with messages, but this has not been the case. I sent out the call on the 14th of August and it has become a part-time job to constantly find lists and websites to post to. I sympathise with marketing and publicity people and now understand the frustration of trying to get your voice heard in a huge portal of never-ending media. My first posts were sent to, the Hungarian list @ C3, the Audio Visual Melbourne list (AVM), family & friends here and overseas.

The First SMS

I received the first message within hours and was really excited. I felt like the project was something far removed from me now – with a response that had travelled round the world and found its way back to me via mobile phone. It beeps, the mobile – I think it might be family or friends contacting me, but instead it was a message from a number that I didn’t recognise, with words from a song.

How exciting! My first SMS for OneSixty Characters! I got so excited and started waiting in anticipation for more. I checked my emails and found that my first respondent had studiously sent through a form from my website with details relating to the SMS. EXCELLENT! It was referred from and sent from Melbourne…

But after the first SMS, response was slow. I’ve wondered whether it’s costs? Is it too expensive for people to SMS, or do people not use it as much as I’d thought? Is it due to the diverse technologies via mobiles and phone systems that mean some countries or their systems are incompatible? Is this a metaphor for different cultures? We have similarities but our differences keep us apart therefore not allowing us to communicate effectively? Systems in place that don’t allow smooth connections or contact. Phones are accessible and understood in most developed countries, mobile phone technology is not daunting, I would have thought it to be a common way of transferring information, another common language perhaps?

These strangers are also local but we have found each other in a global transferral of information. I’m in Sydney posting to a list in the US,, and I get a response from someone in Melbourne! The second one also came from Melbourne, but from the Audio Visual Melbourne list.

I often wonder if mobile phones are still only effective for contact with others that are on or in the same continent or country? Do we only use it for personal reasons, to communicate with people we know, people in our mobile address books? Or people that we will see in the near future? Is this the reason I have received a few from fellow Australians but not many from strangers?

Another interesting thing that I have been tracking is: from where people are being referred. I have asked in the online form, where did they hear about OneSixty Characters? Because of some of the responses I decided to investigate further. So I googled as well as cross-checked with my website statistics on Statcounter.

What I found was interesting: I found that not only had my family & friends (my immediate community defined by location) passed on my email regarding this project, but so had people in the global virtual community. I had found that I was getting many hits from Italy and then discovered that someone had posted my call-out in an online Italian magazine – Random magazine. I thought a friend I have in Italy had kindly translated it for me and posted it. But after babelfishing the site, I realised it was someone I didn’t know, a virtual stranger or a virtual friend. This has been an ongoing response to this project. People lifting it and putting it on their blogs, lists, sites, etc… But it was still early days and I had hardly any responses… : (

The Mysterious Breakthrough

I noticed a HUGE jump in hits on Wednesday the 24th. I came up with the implausible hypothesis that perhaps people in the Northern Hemisphere had been on holidays and were looking at their emails that had banked up in the last few days or week and had finally found my call for SMS! This seemed highly unlikely, and what I did find after a close inspection, was that over 80% of the hits were coming from I went back to take a look. Someone I didn’t know, (Peggy McKinnon) had decided to put it on the front-page and list it as a type of ad/feature (see left hand side of image). This also meant that it was sent out via e-list as a separate alert, solely advertising my work and call for participation.

The other interesting thing about this is that through RSS many people had their sites and blogs connecting back to Rhizome, meaning that even more people were viewing my site and getting more hits then the initial week, I was in heaven! My statistics of unique visitors as well as hits had increased substantially. For about one week, Rhizome was the centre point of information where people/sites had stretched their virtual arms to a make connections through Rhizome back to me/OneSixty Characters. All these strangers are part of a virtual community that has helped me get my voice out there for a short period of time.

After my Rhizome breakthrough, interest has wavered and I have spent hours trying to find the next big thing! This week ArtsHub have been great, it’s on the site as well as being sent out via their e-newsletter. I had a few responses from that, the most ever actually – 4 in one day – I think I might be a web-stats addict now, still looking for that next Rhizome-like rush of hits. By far the most interest has been generated by Australia, followed by the US and Spain, as they are neck and neck. I also have Serbian, Japanese, Italian, German, English, Croatian, and Spanish rhymes and am looking for more.

All continents are covered but I have only had a little bit of interest from South America and nothing much at all from Asia. In fact someone in China emailed me to tell me that my site appeared to have been banned! I’ve since read that the Chinese government views text messaging as a highly subversive practice…

The power of text!