2010 Spring


Pehr Hovey

Project Description


 Aether is a system that catches deleted Tweets.

It consists of a server written in Ruby that is constantly consuming the Twitter streaming API, and two client visualizations made in Processing that receive deleted twitter data using Open Sound Control. It was made for my final master's project at MAT.



Aether is an exploration of the irrevocability of speech in online social networks. Just seconds after posting something online it has likely been disseminated to dozens of people and definitely been archived by an unknowable number of automated systems. Though a delete button may provide solace to those having second thoughts, in reality it is a façade—you can never truly take something back online. And yet, people around the world are constantly changing and removing things they have said, altering their online image.

Aether investigates this phenomenon of online self-erasure by capturing and visualizing deleted Twitter updates in real-time. Whereas people might hope that their deletions go unnoticed, Aether amplifies and dissects the act for the public to see.

Aether is comprised of a central data processing server and multiple client applications that interact with the server using Open Sound Control (OSC). The Ruby server continuously processes the Twitter Stream API in a multi-stage pipeline. The system stores all tweets in a local MySQL database. Deletion notices in the API stream are crosschecked with the database archive to recover the data that has been deleted from the public API. Deleted statuses are pushed to visualization clients in real-time. Clients can be developed on any platform that can communicate using OSC. The visualizations prepared for this project were written in Java using the Processing.org framework.

In practice the system is capable of recovering several deleted tweets per minute, within seconds of the user deleting it.
[ link to video ]

[ Link to .PDF presentation]