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Feb. 23: Twitter-Based Personal Graphing Tool Wins Carnegie Mellon's 2009 Smiley Award


Anne Watzman                        

Byron Spice

Twitter-Based Personal Graphing Tool
Wins Carnegie Mellon's 2009 Smiley Award

PITTSBURGH—Grafitter, a technology that makes it easy to collect information about yourself over time and depict it in graph form on Twitter, is the 2009 winner of Carnegie Mellon University's second annual Smiley Award. The award, sponsored by Yahoo! Inc., recognizes innovation in technology-assisted person-to-person communication and is open to all undergraduate and graduate students at the university.
The award is named in honor of the ubiquitous smiley emoticon, :-), created 26 years ago at Carnegie Mellon by Computer Science Department Research Professor Scott Fahlman. The smiley symbol was an early — and still widely used — convention that allows people to express humor and happiness in text messages on the Internet.
Grafitter is the creation of Ian Li, ( a doctoral student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, who will receive the $500 first prize and a crystal trophy. Li won an honorable mention in last year's Smiley Award competition for his web-based Moodjam application that tracks people's emotional states, available at
This year's Honorable Mention award goes to Ilya Brin, Dan Eisenberg and Kevin Li, a trio of undergraduates who developed EyeTable, an intelligent restaurant table that uses headsets and sensing technology based on the Wii game controller to determine how well people are responding to one another on dates by analyzing their gestures and speech patterns. They developed EyeTable for a course project in the Applied Computational Intelligence Lab, taught by Language Technology Institute faculty members Anatole Gershman and Alan Black.
"I create technologies that help people collect and see information about themselves," said Grafitter creator Li. "I have applied my research on motivating physical activity, increasing mood awareness and office activity awareness. Grafitter is only as useful as you make it. If there is something about your life that you are curious about, start recording it and study your graphs."
With help from Grafitter,, you could record your weight, the amount of exercise you get and the food you eat by sending simple Twitter messages with special tags. Later, you can see all of these items in graph form and, optionally, share them with your community of friends on Twitter. For a demo of how Grafitter works, go to
"Ian has a wonderful combination of technical and creative skills," said Li's advisor Jodi Forlizzi, associate professor in the Human Computer Interaction Institute. These culminate in his interest on 'personal informatics' — how to collect, display and benefit from information about the self."
"Ian is really a unique individual — a great mix of designer and technologist, targeted towards applications that can make a difference in people's lives, either individually or as a community," added advisor Anind Dey, assistant professor of human-computer interaction. "This is true of MoodJam, which received an honorable mention in last year's Smiley competition, and his main work on personal informatics where he helps people understand their own behaviors."  
"Grafitter is fun, very easy to use and is a good fit for the Smiley Award's theme of technology-assisted person-to-person communication," said Fahlman, who organized the award competition. "The judges were particularly impressed with Ian's cleverness in creating a 'viral' application — one that is likely to spread quickly through the large and fast-growing community of Twitter users, providing them with a handy new communication tool. This is very much in the spirit of the original smiley symbol."