Markov Chaining Kickstarter Blurbs

So I'm back from a wonderful couple of days of hanging out with the Kickstarter team near the beach. I managed to rent a surfboard and catch a couple of waves too. During a margarita-induced what-if-session, someone encouraged me to try and auto-generate some blurbs from the Kickstarter homepage. These are typically 150-200 character descriptions of projects that our community team labors over and refreshes daily.

Since I had worked with Markov Chains for Dan Shiffman's class "Programming A to Z" at ITP and had done two projects using them: ROBODRUDGE (autogenerated Matt Drudge Headlines) and The Rutabaga (an April Fools Joke that Google was attempting to compete with The Onion by using auto-generated news headlines), they seemed like an obvious place to start. I found Eric Hodel's Markov Chain ruby code readily usable and went from there.

To give some background to Markov Chains: the basic principle is to use probability to auto-generate new sequences based off old patterns. Sometimes these sequences can be numerical, sometimes they're musical, and sometimes they're  characters and words.

An example of exquisite corpse from Wikipedia.

Another way to think of Markov chains is as a computer's attempt to play Equisite Corpse: it is fed a certain amount of existing information and then it attempts to extrapolate a similar pattern. A classic example is to feed a Markov Chain Engine Shakespeare; not only is it readily available in raw text and in the public domain, but Markov Chain generated Shakespeare looks strikingly similar to the real thing (thanks to Jim's Random Notes for the work):

If they in thou, thy love, that old,
Thought, that which yet do the heat did excess
My love concord never saw my woeful taste
At ransoms you for that so unprovident:
For thereby beauty show’st I am fled,
Althoughts to the dead, that care
With should thus shall by their fair,
Where too much my jade,
Her loves, my heart.vs.

I pulled down a document with a majority of the text that Kickstarter has used to blurb projects on the homepage. Below is a subset of an almost infinite list of hilarious and sometimes disturbing auto-generated project blurbs:

  • It features monstrous puppets, mystic sex rituals, yellowface assassins, wildly stylized violence, and a songwriter who created that all-important childhood fave Schoolhouse Rock.
  • To promote NAIN, an all-new miniature setting for his REIGN roleplaying game, Greg Stolze has put together a group of thespians shouting thank you at their laptops to a great $3 price.
  • Karl Cronin wants to document and collect relics of the concoctions of Atlanta's Good Food Truck.
  • Emilia Brock types out every word of her adorable and inventive zine, “Muster,” on a manual typewriter, has each copy illustrated by the Simpsons as a mobile CSA.`
  • First Law of Mad Science channels cyber-punk and sci-fi to bring a Yakuza noir production to the emerging subculture of asexuality.
  • Rewards include CDs mixed by a visit from a song left on your voicemail to a unique fabric whose color + pattern is determined by keywords pulled from Twitter's database in real time.
  • Joe Mangrum has been designing simple-but-compelling computer games based on Eugene O'Neill's play.
  • The project will help them print their fourth issue, and editor Mindy (a drummer herself!) is offering backers personalized designs and original music and prove that the rail system is a five-minute short film about a roach violinist who falls in love with the bravado you'll find in Memphis Heat, a documentary on the real-life appearance of a giant, hand-crafted, Rube Goldberg contraption.
  • After 13+ years of genetic testing and solitary confinement, Oliver’s getting a new horror-adventure comic about the movements of immigrants across vast bodies of water.
  • With just a camera in hand and boundless curiosity, Rebekah Potter interviews artists for her series 10min4walls, in which a twenty-something guy returns to Argentina to rekindle past excitement and romance, but instead is confronted with a musical twist, features a one-of-a-kind mood swing.
  • Fans have flocked to support him, and it's not hard to see it for yourself: it’s available only to backers of the fastest competitive lockpickers in the form of a pig's dissembling and its indie rock soundtrack.
  • Director Jonathan Langer will reward backers with the woman whose apartment he inhabits.
  • Common Cycle is a feature-length thriller about strained family relationships, small-town antics, and second chances.
  • I'm Going Home will be filled with a stowaway lab mouse as his only companion.
  • She'll combine intimate interviews, vérité footage, and animation in a city decimated by the public for performances, gallery space, meetings, bike repairs, relaxing — or pretty much anything.
  • This August, thousands of individual leaf, flower, and bird forms from reclaimed wood and connecting them into an animated feature film starring comedic legend Leslie Nielsen.
  • Trailer Park: A Mobile Public Park is a witty comedic web series.
  • Missed Connections is a film about three friends on a loom into a community biology lab so that no two experiences are alike.
  • Check out his video and you can get a sense of humor and would like to be normal, and Nick's lusting for the Queen of England and wrote a jazz pianist whose work was performed by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and many others; was dead.
  • First Law of Mad Science channels cyber-punk and sci-fi to bring you a hand-drawn postcard from the original.
  • The video teaser feels wonderfully Tim Burton-esque, and the search for the over 45,000 participants who attend Burning Man every year.
  • This latest project will launch Gerlan's Spring 2011 runway show, and she's offering backers everything from print copies to mix tapes to personal drum lessons.
  • Brooklyn-based independent art collective Ugly Duckling Presse is publishing the first twist ending that we've come across in a unique fabric whose color + pattern is determined by keywords pulled from Twitter's database in real time.
  • Check out their touching video and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • Chicago's Chinese Fine Arts Society has been making stunning sand paintings in public spaces for years, totally 160 in the journey with awesome drawings.
  • Following her lauded Gypsy Killers album, Sanda Weigl has a web series as The Office for actors or Entourage for poor people.
  • As the World Cup opens in South Africa, Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler's project to document the life histories of 200 plants and animals through expressive movement, which he'll share in this hilarious pitch video for great world beats!
  • Fed up with the absurdist aesthetic of Dutch animator Emiel Stevenhagen.
  • The result is hypnotizing, and the Land of the Misfit Toys.
  • Check out their touching video and creative rewards includes communist-issue Mongolian Bomber Goggles!
  • Coyote Pursues is a charming character-driven video game for kids.
  • Coyote Pursues is a fan of the remaining villagers.
  • After the success of the most disgusting way of making coffee we've ever seen, plus fun quotes like Let's go slightly less on the road, and you can still get the book for just $10, plus artwork, CDs, a photo book honoring space exploration.
  • Dario Ciriello's homegrown publishing outfit is guided by a subway car or Wal-Mart aisle is a massive interactive Burning Man installation comprised of an old Dodge pickup with fresh, seasonal veggies, Truck Farm was born.
  • Cobbled together from actual footage and the Outs have recorded a sweet, limited-edition EP on cassette (you heard me right) to help everyone send their phones to space and is going to help everyone send their phones to space and designing an app that will take place in a beautiful color poster, the DVD, and tickets to see any show, or a private event thrown in your town AND cook you dinner- what's not to love?
  • Expect a fabulous soup of literary aficionados chatting intelligently about a roach violinist who falls in love with the bravado you'll find in Memphis Heat, a documentary on the real-life appearance of a giant, hand-crafted, Rube Goldberg contraption.
  • After 13+ years of genetic testing and solitary confinement, Oliver’s getting a new recording in the film's virtual town.
  • With Kickstarter, the beloved web-comic slash zine will be reissued in an American town, Congress, in the last 30 years, the PCR machine has been a fascination and obsession for 400 years, made clear by the economic crisis.
  • Help her bring her spring collection to NY's Fashion Week Green Shows and you might end up pledging $10 to see his son do one of a series of mathematical stories that will open and close by electrical current.
  • The goal of CicLAvia is to put all the way through the eyes of the great '60s cult classics.
  • Fart Party is the subject of Angela Kline's boisterous documentary, A Love Letter to Tom Waits.
  • Akimenko Meats is a powerful combination of portraiture, live audio, and writing, creators Kitra and Chris aim to offer an intimate glimpse of a secretive guy in search of his Jens Pulver Kickstarter project, Gregory Bayne has set his sights on his first film, Person of Interest.
  • The work is beautifully previewed in a fantastical world where every shared glance across a subway doo-wop group can be a kite-flying extravaganza!
  • By showcasing this innovative and highly accessible approach to cinema, filmmaker Benjamin Reece hopes to perform A Chinese Love Story for a new work of comics journalism exposing the human cost of trafficking.
  • Pick up a signed copy of the fastest competitive lockpickers in the city!
  • Fishtank Performance Studio in Kansas City works hard to see his fantastically illustrated children's story become a real-life 13 ft. sculpture and installation at the end, the super bouncy balls will all go flying when she throws herself off a roof.
  • Operating Theater's play Transatlantica revolves around a psychoanalyst who encounters a series of bicycle-powered food tours.
  • Backers can witness the event in real-time; $20 gets you a package of exotic recipes, hard-to-find ingredients, and info cards on your voicemail to a Brooklyn rooftop.
  • It's an inventive project from SFHny Studio, a group of thespians shouting thank you at their laptops to a unique photo book and traveling gallery show, dubbing the project that’s so infectious.
  • Fed up with a variety of sculpted paper viruses.
  • Get rewards like an unreleased font and a songwriter who created that all-important childhood fave Schoolhouse Rock.

Most represent composites of parts from two or three different project blurbs, and I've also tried to remove the ones that weren't modified at all (sometimes MCEs just spit out unmodified sentences). I think part of the reason these work so well is because the original blurbs end up conforming to a particular style of quippy, short descriptions structured around rewards and project topics.

1 comment
  1. Any plans to filter it to only include blurbs from successful projects?

    You've seen the Mechanical Turk, now meet the Mechanical Nigerian!

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