What Will You Do?

What Will You Do?

Art + Design + Devlopment

Originally commissioned for Nuit Blanche 2007, What Will You Do? is a public projection that illuminates participants’ personal commitments to reduce their ecological footprint.

Pledges are sent via text message and visualized in real-time onto a billboard or large screen. A soundscape of pre-recorded commitments accompanies the projection and creates a temporary theatre of entertainment, education and transformation. This project was one of the first to utilize SMS technology and we had an average time of less than two seconds between receiving a message, moderating it (using our custom moderation tool), and having it displayed onscreen.


Aleph1 was responsible for the design and development of the visualization, implementation of an SMS gateway, and a custom moderation tool to facilitate screening and managing entries. Approximately 250,000 people have interacted with the project throughout its lifetime, receiving press from the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and more.

What Will You Do? has been publicly exhibited on three occasions: Nuit Blanche 2007 in Toronto, ON; SCANZ 2009 at Govett-Brewster in New Plymouth, New Zealand; and, as part of the Meeting of Minds Project 2009 at the Sci Bono Discovery Centre, in Johannesburg, South Africa.


The initial version of What Will You Do? was developed using Flash technology as it allowed for rapid prototyping of a number of possible visual approaches. From the outset we knew that we wanted to display a multitude of user submitted pledges in order to create a real-time dialogue between viewers. We learn from each other’s initiatives and strived to create a visualization that clearly displays that the sum of our modest individual contributions can produce a massive collective transformation.

Working with real data is always preferable so we began the project with a social event where people could contribute their pledges on paper. From this point forward we had a reasonable sampling of actual pledges to work with. For example:

  • I will ensure that my home is properly insulated
  • I will air-dry my dishes
  • I will pee in the shower
  • I will turn my computer off overnight
  • I will use compact fluorescent bulbs

Moderation Tool

During its initial showing at Nuit Blanche it was a requirement to moderate all incoming pledges. In order to ensure a positive user experience it was essential to approve pledges as quickly as possible. People want to see their pledges onscreen as soon as they have submitted them, and we managed to get the average time from receipt to display down to less than two seconds, with cases as low as one second. To do this we used a combination of an updatable banned word list and PHP’s Soundex, Metaphone and Regular Expression functionality. This approach allowed us to colour code the pledges in the administration tool ranging from green for likely to be safe, through various hues of yellow and orange for caution, to red for ones that were most likely to be unacceptable.