Michael Anton

Communicating with Curiosity: Social Media on Mars

This may be the social media Olympics, but there’s been one clear winner this week in ‘who’s had the most interesting presence on twitter’, and that’s Curioisty (@MarsCurioisity). The 900KG, 6-wheel robotic mobile laboratory that has, since the 5th of August, been bumbling about the surface of Mars. The twitter account associated with the robot is an amazing example of how to telling an unfolding and complex story with (ironic?) humanity, wit and brevity.

Just look at the Rover’s first tweet from the red dusty plains of a planet some 34 million miles away:

Obviously these tweets aren’t coming from Curiosity itself, but the people in charge of interpreting the vast and complicated data streams being beamed across space are doing an amazing job at compacting down the information whilst injecting some real personality into their communications…

The rover’s first tweet might not have the poetics of the (in)famous first words on the moon, but it does tell me where the rover is, the condition it is in and, more than anything else, it makes laugh, gasp and want to read more. After seeing this tweet I wanted find out about this character’s very real, genuinely exciting and wonderfully told adventures. And the fact that I even thought of this robot and this government funded space mission as a ‘character’ is very telling indeed.

The crew behind the Rover’s twitter account know their audience, and they talk to the internet enabled public in a colloquial, meme-acknowledging way, which situates a huge hulking mass of wires, motors, equipment and government bodies as just another online peer talking about what they’re up to:

Yes, that’s NASA talking to you right there, pretending to be a robot in space, riffing on a popular internet trope that won’t seem out of place on a Reddit comments thread somewhere. If that doesn’t confirm that we are, in fact, living in the future, I don’t know what will…

@MarsCuriosity might be a little bit busy nowadays to respond socially to every single @mention that it gets, but it  can still take the time out to plough through what must be a vast list of mentions and reply to the public in order to clear up some big issues; like @mediadeo’s question about why there wasn’t any sound to the recently released descent footage:

It’s not just on twitter that NASA has shown that it’s not fallen behind when it comes to social technologies; the latest high-res shot taken from Curiosity’s descent has the usual sharing buttons underneath it, but, it’s also got a ‘Pin it!’ link. This wouldn’t seem out of place on any other blog, but the realisation that America’s government funded space program is cool with people sticking pictures of Mars next to their perfect home interiors and re-pinned info-graphics is a startling one.

You’re probably already following the rover as it journies around the red planet, but if you’re not you can do so by clicking this button.

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Michael Anton is a geography PhD graduate in London who has just finished a thesis on the cultural construction of space within places of live music. He's also a runner, writer and digital media obsessive.
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