REVIEW: Sinister Social Networks by Joachim Desarmenien

sinister image

Sinster [http://www.sinister-network.com] is a project by Cassandra Rand (Founder and CEO), Georgia N. Underwood (CTO), and artist Annina Rüst (Relations Representative). Sinister plays with social network theories, methods, and tools to provide fake interpretations of the patterns that issue from senseless message exchanges.

Cassandra Rand was introduced to technology early, as her parents are researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratories. She studied at TRV University [http://www.trvuniversity.com], worked for Psi Tech, [http://www.psitech.net] and finally decided to use her abilities to discover malicious friends, a factor that undoubtedly lead her to found Sinister.

In establishing Sinister, Cassandra Rand associated herself with Georgia N. Underwood, a self-taught programmer and a big user of social software, and Annina Rüst [http://www.trash.net/~aruest], whose artistic sensibilities include projects similar to this collaboration, such as supervilainizer. [http://www.supervillainizer.ch]

The three of them have based Sinister’s forum on traditional online social networks, such as Friendster [http://www.friendster.com]. But, where Friendster offers tools to connect with friends and socialize with new acquaintances, Sinister offers the same tools, but tweaks the proposed intensions of sought interaction by providing users with the opportunity to connect with a new type of social organization and create alliances via sinister and anti-social networks.

Research has recently been done on Sinister networks in an effort to define them and their aims, seeking to uncover them in the vast conglomeration of communication networks already in practice. Researchers working at the Renssellear Polytechnic Institute in Troy New York have published several working hypothesis on the nature of these networks. These definitions form the underlying target and policy of Sinister. [1]

The following three points comprise the focus of Sinister:

Hypothesis 1:
“The type of hidden group. We differentiate between trusting and non-trusting (or paranoid) groups. Trusting groups allow messages among group members to be delivered by non-group members, whereas non-trusting groups do not. Trusting groups tend to be benign, while non-trusting groups are more likely to be malicious. The surprising result is that it is easier to detect non-trusting groups; such groups are undermined by their own paranoia.”

Hypothesis 2:
“Normal communications in the network are voluntary and “random” however a hidden group communicates because it has to communicate (for planning or coordination).”

Hypothesis 3:
“Group identification done by an algorithm, such as the one proposed in this paper, could be used as the initial step in narrowing down the vast communication network to a smaller set of groups of actors. The communications among these potential hidden groups could then be scrutinized more closely.”

Listening for the whispers of groups trying to stay hidden, exposing hidden communication networks, and analysing the communication patterns issued by its tools, Sinister implies a radical change in creating temporary autonomous moments. Using the www, the IRC, and the VOIP, Sinister offers a chat facility based on everyday needs and phone services in order to keep you connected with your sinister networks — “Whatever you are plotting, don’t do it without telling your friend”.

Sinister Chat Groups help you get in contact with other plotters, offering discussions about commonplace subjects, such as Gardening, Real Estate, Finance & Invest and Travel, they are always active, on publicly accessible Internet Relay Chat Servers (IRC) which are selected for three hours. All chat sessions last exactly three hours, at the end, the chat group switches to the next server for continued sinister conversations. According to research done at Rensellear Polytechnic institute, these “server hops” create a non-random pattern of the groups’ activities that help in their detection:

“Normal communications in the network are voluntary and ‘random.’ However, a hidden group communicates because it has to communicate (for planning or coordination). Thus, the hidden group communication dynamics will display, out of necessity, certain non-random behavior. Detecting this non-random behavior will help us establish the presence of a ‘hidden’ group, as well as identify its members.”

Sinister also offers its plotters other ways of keeping in touch. When not in front of a computer, there is a phone service available to accessible the network in a wide variety of cities around the world:

“When calling the Sinister Phone Service you will hear the discussions that are happening at that time in one of Sinister’s chat groups. If you want to say something, wait for a gap in the conversation and press 8. When you are done, press #. Specially calibrated speech-to-text algorithms will then analyze what you said and then send your input to the chat group. Of course, the chat group will reply immediately.”

A typical chat session in the gardening room may look like this:

*** scard_98 [~d4b44b05@sinister.ucsd.edu] has joined #gardening
*** scard_98 McVeigh34 TexasRanch tattletale @call_agent
*** Channel created on Tue Sep 27 15:04:01 2005

The secret to making your flowering trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials bloom more is in the odda process to produce compound fertilizers such as annm.

Also? I hadn’t thought of that.

I also want to know if the brand of fertilizer called Miracle Grow can be used to produce nitric acid. A reaction product of ammonia and nitric acid and ammonia also can be used in the odda process to produce compound fertilizers such as manure or compost (see also organic gardening), or artificially as through the haber-bosch process which produces ammonia.

ERudolph should be informed. These chrysanthemums are suspicious

[…]

I want to know if the bloom can only be set off by using diesel fuel or could you also use regular gasoline?

Would you like to have an idea? Oh. You really do? I hope that your dreams come true. I hadn’t thought of that.

Your local county extension agent can help you perform a simple soil test to determine your soil type.
…

Nothing to worry about at first sight: It is seemingly just advice on fertilizer. Each chat is here supposed (we assume that there is a plot going on) to follow a predictable communication pattern. This pattern is translated onscreen during the session; it shows the message exchanges and the intensity of these exchanges. According to Hypothesises made by researchers, these diagrams could reveal something hidden. That’s why when the chat is finished or during the chat you can interpret this pattern to prevent the evil plotters to fulfil their scheme.

A gallery presents patterns that have been interpreted by the users of the website. [http://www.sinister-network.com/inside/interprete1.php?task=gallery]

Example of interpreted pattern:

Social Network Diagram

INTERPRETATION: It’s a boat anchor. Someone’s going to blow up a boat. [2]

Based on the experimentation of researches, theories and social networking, Sinister points out that the aesthetic of communication is an aesthetic of events which always occur in real time through a technological device – which helps create social contact and connect different spaces in the same time. What matters here is not the content of what is exchanged, but the fact that exchange occurs.

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1. Download PDF file of the Departments interpretation: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=100201&org=NSF
http://www.cs.rpi.edu/research/pdf/04-04.pdf]
2. Date of Observation/Interpretation: 2005-10-01 22:22:44 Channel: Gardening