Sticker Cloud

If you’re a long-time reader, you may have noticed that I’m a tad obsessed with bumper stickers. I’ve been thinking lately about why that is, and I think I know why. I recall talking with my dad when I was younger about bumper stickers. He’d sometimes discuss the merits or problems of a particular idea someone was expressing, but more often still, he’d point out the correlations between the stickers. He loved to ask my sister and I if we could find the common ideological assumptions that tied the stickers together. I still do that to this day, almost automatically.

Lately I’ve been wondering if I could somehow make a website out of the question of “How are certain bumper stickers ideologically tied to other bumper stickers?” Someone already made a website out of a fascination with the question “Where has this dollar bill been,” so this doesn’t seem that crazy.

I want to be able to make a short list of bumper stickers from a car I saw this afternoon, for example, enter them into this website, and have it show me a sticker cloud (hmm… stickercloud dot com is available…) of all the other bumper stickers that would be most likely to be seen on a car with the ones I saw. It could even show me the stickers that are least likely to be seen on that car, so I could see the ideological opposites of those stickers. It would save the data I had entered, too, and as more people used it, the ideological ties would become clearer and clearer as more data was entered in.

There are two big problems with this idea as far as I can tell. First, it would be difficult to associate the same sticker (or an extremely-similar sticker) seen by two different people unless there was a finite set of stickers to choose from. You’d have to have some kind of search mechanism that only displayed known stickers, but that would artificially limit how the cloud could grow. That’s hard to solve.

The second problem is that there’s nothing stopping multiple people from entering the same car over and over again, and making those ties seem stronger even when they only really represent one car or one person. I figured I’d have to allow users to also enter license plate numbers to keep that from happening, but I don’t know what the legal implications of collecting license plate numbers are. That’s the other issue.

What do you all think? Interesting idea or useless waste of time? Any help with the two difficult parts of the idea would be much appreciated. We’ll see where this goes.

14 thoughts on “Sticker Cloud

  1. So THAT’S why I do that!!!! I had forgotten about Dad encouraging us to create links between bumper stickers. I love it when there is a real challenge or a complete ideological disagreement; I love to pull up next the the driver just to see what illogical thinking does to one’s appearance.

  2. Hey…that sounds a lot like what I did for my masters project. I had data from a music file sharing service and found groups of songs that people tended to share together.

    For the first problem, you could just do a simple keyword search to find all of the similar stickers already in the DB and make the person entering the sticker check to make sure it is the same.

    For the second problem, maybe you could have a simple distance metric between stickers. Stickers appearing on the same car have a distance of 0 or something like that. If you only kept track of the distance seeing the same car multiple times wouldn’t change that at all. Plus having a distance measure between stickers would let you do all sorts of cool things.

    If you’re serious about this, I’d love to help!

  3. Geez, who could turn down an offer to work with Andy Fast on a project like this?

    I’ve registered the domain and just parked it for now so no one can steal it. I had a freebie registration laying around, so it didn’t cost a penny. Anyhow, I can’t say that I’ll be able to do this in 2006, but I’m pretty sure come 2007ish, I can do this.

    Time to start dreaming. And also probably time to start learning Flash. 😉

  4. Woohoo! I just have a little thing called a dissertation to worry about over the next year but hey it’ll be fun! I’ve had all sorts of ideas already.

  5. I have a data point for you. Today I drove behind a car with two bumper stickers: “No Stadium Tax” and “No Weapons in Space”.

  6. But… I don’t want a stadium tax… but I REALLY want space weapons. Space weapons are the future. Does this mean I have to pay a stadium tax to get my death ray satalite?

  7. Hey, I read a post you made a while back concerning the lack of a straight pride symbol. I couldn’t find anything on your blog that told me where I could e-mail you, so I’m just going to comment here to say that I have an idea for a straight pride symbol that I think is even better. You can check it out at

    I think it will really be successful because it is so iconic and immediately recognizable. I also like it because it is not simply a straight pride symbol but an overall embrace of the Christian conception of human sexuality. I’d be interested to hear with you think (and with your love of bumper stickers, I’d be interested to see what you think about the others on the site). Thanks!

  8. Well, it’s more on-topic in this thread than it would have been in many of my other recent posts, and the original Straight Pride blog post comments are closed, so this’ll do. 😉

    Hey W.E, my straight pride symbol is very purposefully not bringing Christianity into the picture. I think that’s a step backwards, and confuses and entangles too many issues at once. Yes, I’m a Christian, but my Christianity doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m trying to say with the straight pride symbol.

    Aside from that issue, it looks to me like all you did was take two (or three, depending on how one counts them) pre-existing symbols and put them together. Not that original. I think my proposed symbol is highly functional, highly original, much simpler and more easily recognizable. Those are all things a symbol needs.

  9. Hm… Ready for a bumper sticker tangent?

    So, fellow Minnesotans — Last year I saw a green “Wellstone!” bumpersticker on a North Carolina car. And (although very possible, there are a lot of us down here) I don’t think this person was a transplant like yours truely.

    Now, why would North Carolinians have Paul Wellstone’s campaign stickers on the back of their car? I’ll give you a couple days to guess and one MAJOR clue, I’m sure you can figure it out.

    Clue (these five letters): UNC-CH

    Maybe you could have a spin-off that links bumperstickers to license plates — that’d be especially interesting if the license plate was personalized.

  10. What do I think? I think my cuz is one of the biggest geeks in the world! But, be sure to let me know if you work this all out…and know that in the meantime now I’ll be pondering connections between the bumperstickers.

    And what is the ideological meaning behind people like me who refuse to put any stickers on my car?

  11. Minda,
    We don’t want to be chained down to a philosophy or idea, we’re willing to change.
    Or we think that most bumper stickers are just dumb, and have not yet found one we would be willing to stick forever to our car.

    (And the answer to my riddle: Wellstone went to school down here and made quite the name for himself while at UNC. Most people remember him quite fondly.)

  12. I refuse to put stickers on my rides too. I just can’t stomach putting adhesive on paint. For me it is like drawing a mustache on a famous portrait. Then again, I’ve always put automobiles on a high pedestal as an expression of art in engineering. The only exceptions I make are for my former school (Bethel), my favorite team (Mankato State Mavericks Hockey), and my favorite snowmobile manufacturer (Polaris). And those stickers are in the form of static ones inside of the rear window.

    What stickers does everyone have on their cars? Perhaps we can start seeing if there are correlations in this subset.

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