Tag Archives: web-2.0

Web as canvas: The evolution of the world wide web as a creative forum

This is an essay that I wrote last year for University. Though I don’t think it’s bad – it could certainly be improved. It should still be of some use / relevance. I really found writing it made me get my head round the concepts I was writing about, and although I understood them all already, it really brought them into focus. Anyway, it’s here; Web as Canvas.

Data Art

After various discussions, one with my tutor Jane Brake and one with superfly superstar Sam Jeffers, I’ve begun trying to further formalise my understanding of the implications of data. Specifically the data that generated by my digital artworks. Most of my practise so far has been fairly ‘happy go lucky’ in a lot of ways. Mostly I’ve been interested in creating things purely for the sake of creating them – and I’m more than happy to stand by that point of view. Even if one’s creative output doesn’t broach a political subject, or doesn’t directly evoke an intense emotionally reponse in the audience, it does not intrinsically diminish its value. However, what I’ve finally realised, is that better understanding of some of the constructs that I’m working with – the Web, the network effect, data, and people – will allow me to produce “better” work. At the very least, it can’t hurt!

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BlogCrossing; Isnternet; Anti-Blogs; Liberation

Since I discovered it was possible, I’ve been yearning to make something out of the Webserver on a Stick project (WOS). Components that make WOS are:

  • A web server; Apache
  • A database server; MySQL
  • A scripting language; PHP

For one, I love all the recursive acronyms. GNU, stands for GNU is not UNIX. Witty! And PHP stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. I suppose this is why I get called a geek. Not just for knowing the acronyms – necessarily – but that I find them funny.

Anyway, the case in point is that these three pieces of software, three giants of the software world; can all be crammed onto a USB memory stick. The “AMP” combination (Apache, MySQL, PHP) is such a powerful combination, although rarely seen by end-users directly, it sits behind hundreds of millions of websites, not to mention the hundreds of famous companies that use software like MySQL. Most amazingly something that warms by heart and opens my mind is that it is all distributed for free and with freedom. Their mission statement is this:

[it is our] mission to preserve, protect and promote the freedom to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer software, and to defend the rights of all free software users

It is also, from what I can tell, a mostly pointless exercise. There is very little point in having these three incredibly powerful pieces of software on a memory stick; it is more a showcase of possibilities. The power of the software, and the millions of man-hours of work that has gone into the software development, is encapsulated in an extremely small artifact. Its almost like having an all knowing guru, who could have memorised all of human history, but they are unable to write, talk or communicate in any other way. The strength and power of the software is somehow “trapped”.

BlogCrossing Concept

You may have heard of BookCrossing (“bookcrossing” is now included in the Oxford Concise Dictionary). BookCrossing is defined as;

“the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise”

Although I have significantly different aims, I have transferred the same functional structure, which resonates well with my other audience collaboration oriented work, to work with the “Webserver of a Stick” technology.

Rather than leaving a book in a public place, I am leaving USB memory sticks. Each stick has installed on it Apache, MySQL and PHP and blogging system WordPress (also the system behind this blog!). Anyone who plugs in a memory stick they have found is invited to make a blog entry and then pass the memory stick on to another person, who will then pass it on to another, and so on. I want to this to continue until each stick’s memory is full, when they will all be sent back to me.

Isnternet; although it is all web and internet based technology, BlogCrossing works in a completely “disconnected” manner. The network is made by the people rather than the telephony and internet networks that we are more often a part of.

Anti-Blogs; traditionally a blog resides on the web, and can be accessed by any number of visitors, search engines, news aggregators and so on. Also, most blogs are maintained by an individual, they’re often diaries and journals (like this one!). BlogCrossing is neither of these things, and in fact it is in the inverse. Maintained and written by many individuals, accessible by only one person at a time.

BlogCrossing; a tribute to the brilliance and success of BookCrossing.

I’ve released three BlogCrossings so far.. I hope they’re doing well.

My one misgiving is also the strongest part of the project. I’m worried that the network of people will break down. Somebody might loose the memory stick, they might steal the memory stick, they might accidentally delete all the data on it, anyone of these things would just ruin it. However if those things don’t happen, it proves a mass-understanding, a connectedness (even in anonymity); for me a pleasurable outcome. The aim, is that each person that takes part, and in the future people who see the fruits of the project will feel that pleasure too.

NB, I just spell checked, misread something that I thought I’d written, then thought of the word “witticism”, checked it and it exists – Cool!

“Witty remark. Blend of witty and criticism.”


Technorati searches blogs, millions of them, this one included. Its in competition with Google and Yahoo et al.

Very useful tool, should use it more. Advantagous over WikiPedia in its basis in opinion and thought, rather than pure facts and citations.

Having just written that I decided to use it, and vaguely entered some search terms. It yielded relevant, interesting and useful results immediately. Brilliant! I discovered the Arduino board, which is a little electronic circuit you plug into your computer via USB, it has a number of connectors, which you can plug just about anything into. On the Arduino website there are many examples of interactive installations people have put together using the Arduino – and it interfaces seamlessly with Max/MSP which is also interesting. Potentially knowing of it will allow me to follow up on some of my more challenging concepts.

I discovered the Arduino after landing on a journal belonging to a student in a similar position to myself, also studying in England. He and his friends were trying to utilise Arduino and Max/MSP to create a self-contained installation that takes shadows cast by the sun as input and outputs audio and video. It sounded good, if a little far fetched. I’ve enquired as to the outcome.

Adele Prince & Mars Bars

Adele Prince (an Interactive Arts graduate) came to talk to my group this week. She has been very successful with exhibitions, commissions and winning an innovation prize from the Yahoo! website. Through her various projects she has also attracted a lot of media coverage. Her success alone was enough to keep me attentive, but as it turned out I really enjoyed the presentation and her work definately aroused my interest. Most of Adele’s projects seemed to utilise the web, with more recent work reflecting the changes in the how the internet is used and having a distinctly Web 2.0 feel about them. One of her latest works, involved being tracked via GPS, which updated her position on a map on a website, and being given instruction via mobile phone – very technology heavy! This web-centricity was particularly interesting to me; as many of my ideas and things I’d like to do involve the same kind of things.

One commission that Adele showed us, was for a train station in Linconshire. How she created her work (which was a video installation) was to travel the length of the trainline and alongside it. But she did this by foot, taking photographs at 5 minute intervals throughout (the whole journey took several days). With the journey complete the photographs were Adele’s source material, along with video footage recorded by her boyfriend who was following her on a bicycle. The end result is displayed on two video monitors housed within the station ticket office. I really liked this concept, its the kind of self-involving art that I really like. I guess there is something of a likeness to post modernism with exposed self-referencing, that really gets my juices flowing. With this piece I like it that there is no certainty about what the images would be, but together they can be directly relevant to the subject.

Another piece of work she talked about (my favourite I think) was her “Lost Something?” website. This was born from Adele collecting lost items from the street, and cataloging the item, where it was found, and when. Eventually all these items were compiled and uploaded onto a website. People can log on to the website, check the list and see if their lost item is there. Launched in the late 90s Adele still recieves many emails per week with regard to the lost items on the website.

Adele seems to have been prolific since leaving University, with further projects including Lost Something and another web-based affair; Trolley Spotting. Trolley Spotting is an online database (with maps & images) chronicling Adele’s journeys around various cities to find trolleys. It is true that trolleys turn up in many odd places!

I’m enticed by the all Adele’s work, and it is very reminicent of a number of my own concepts – I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing for most of the projects. Like a “missing link”. Of course this is just my preference, and I was exceedingly excited to see someone doing things so similar to some of my aspirations. Also her success speaks for itself.

The presentation did make me think back to discovering the Bookcrossing.com website. On the site, you register your details and you’re then given a serial number. You print the number in a book, which you then leave anywhere you like! The idea is that someone else finds the book, which as well as the serial number has details of how to get the website. They then register the fact that they’ve found the book, where, when, how etc then once they’re finished with the book they are supposed to leave it somewhere else. Thus you get a large network of people sharing books with people using the Internet as a medium for tracking it.

There is another website called WheresGeorge.com and another called PhotoTag.org – one tracks US currency and the other disposable cameras (and then shows the pictures taken with each camera). The ideaology seems very similar to that of a lot of mail artists, but in this case making the most out of the internet.

When I discovered these websites (about 3 years ago now) the concept of each struck a chord with me; and I started trying to wrack my brains to figure out something similar that I could set up myself. The lost something idea was one that came to mind (I was unaware Adele had done it!), but I decided it would only really work as a self-contained thing if the lost objects were posted on the website by its users, rather than just me, and that this would constitute a massive programming task!

The thing that really turned me on about BookCrossing (which, incidentally, is now a word in the Oxford English dictionary!) was the fact that the people interacting with the site were giving each other a gift. Even if it is to a complete stranger! I like this idea of not being able to control something, but engineering conditions so the “art” actually evolves by itself (plus its always nice to get something for free, from another person). The concept is quite similar to Dave Gorman’s book Googlewhack Adventure, which is an amazing book. I think it qualifies to be called a work of art.

Mars Bars! I think the reason I chose Mars bars was that it rhymes, and I liked the phrase “Mars bars go far..”

My plan is to create a replica of the BookCrossing system, but modified so that Mars bars are the subject, rather than books. I will start with, say, 100 Mars which I will release through a variety of methods – each of them tagged with their own serial number and instructions. Whoever finds or recieves one of the bars, is instructed to log on to the website and record the fact they’ve recieved (and eaten!) the chocolate they are then requested to purchase a replacement chocolate add a serial number (provided by the website) and release that bar.

I would love to create this chocolate giving network, see how far it can spread, track its progress, ultimately see where it takes me and see where it takes the Mars bars.

Later on, I had two thoughts; firstly I was worried about the legality of using the Mars company’s trademarks but then that led me to thinking how valuable it maybe for the company. I wonder if I could create such a thing and sell it to Mars as a viral marketing technique or simply tell Mars about the project and see if they would give me a nominal sponsor to get it off the ground.

So I’m extremely grateful to Adele for rekindling my interest in this kind of project and very pleased to have been made aware of her work, which I’m going to be watching with a keen eye. Maybe at some point we could join forces! Its funny how things work together, I started doing my first computer programming in ages with Max/MSP last week, and now I’m thinking about doing a whole load more.