A look into ‘To Be’ and networking innovation

2 August 2013

The intricate and complex network systems that make up the web do not operate on a purely linear basis; points of interest not just connecting to the next one. Despite the development of methods to organise our online activity, the information available to us through our browser is both constantly available and moving, while the tiniest glimpse of this information is made visible to us through the window that is our device browser. With these problems in mind, the development (and imminent public launch) of an interesting new social media platform, To Be, looks set to make significant progress in the way we categorize our online activity, both structurally and visually.

To Be defines itself as “an internet studio space”. Users, who are encouraged to collaborate, are given a set of expressive and flexible creative tools with which to manipulate almost everything the internet has to offer: a public library of images, gifs, videos, music and whatever else can be accessed and incorporated into a composition, which can also be embellished by your own personal files. These visually rich (and highly personable) online collages are referred to as ‘fields’, and suggests an exciting concept of actually occupying a creative space online. In comparison, being offered a page or a profile with which to express and present your self suddenly doesn’t feel adequate, the restrictive parameters of contemporary social media suddenly becoming all too apparent.

To Be
In particular, these fields manage to visually dominate the web browser, allowing for compositions to be fully appreciated and experienced. In terms of information, To Be incorporates a simple link system comprising only of ‘Authors’, ‘Share’ and ‘About’, as well as a one back to the To Be home page, which brings us back to a critical, if not dream-shattering point.

Let’s not forget that these spaces cannot be walked through. Despite a sophisticated zoom and pan system, these ‘fields’ have individual domain names, thus remaining as separate tabs on a web browser, even if the creative area feels expansive. So while To Be succeeds in pushing the limits of the web, its context as confinement within the browser only serves to highlight the restrictions that remain, especially when loaded content buffers or slows down the operating system. The interface between online information and physical, lived experience simply doesn’t allow for the totally immersive experience that To Be is worthy of, but perhaps hardware development can only follow innovations in original online activity systems.

Despite a distributive approach to online interaction and content, choosing a path through the web’s expansive networks still remains necessary, and even To Be have a Twitter and a Tumblr blog, offering information in an easy-to-navigate, horizontal, linear-listed format. The feed/stream as organisational method is incredibly useful; in addition, as Attilia Franchini points out in a recent interview with aqnb, such narrative presentation still stands as a creative (curatorial) act in itself, requiring connected decision-making regarding content. But, by juxtaposing social media systems with that of distributive online networks through a creative platform, To Be allows users to synchronize the separate presences that contemporary culture has inhabited, both physically and virtually. There will always be a place for the linear, but hopefully more natural social media experiences will develop through tech like To Be.

To Be is an online creative network that launches to the public soon.

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C.回.R to run alongside Visions of the Now

20 May 2013

Concept hackathon C.回.R is calling for participants to solve and play with big issues in the arts raised by five notable artists. As part of this year’s Visions of the Now Festival in Stockholm, Sweden, running from May 25 to 28, the Call & Response end will feature Goodiepal, Natalie JeremijenkoHannah Heilmann, Luke Fishbeck of Lucky Dragons and musician and doctoral candidate Holly Herndon. She released acclaimed concept piece-slash-club banger Movement on RVNG last year and collaborated with organiser Mat Dryhurst in the now-defunct <body>. Fifteen to 20 hackers are invited to E.M.S Studios to work on problems from May 24, to be presented on the afternoon of Sunday, May 26.

Considering the range of responses to last month’s Seven on Seven in New York, things are bound to get interesting. See the C.回.R website for more information.**

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A survey of bygone technology

3 May 2013

The early days of personal computers and the World Wide Web are being revisited with growing sentiment. For a few years, we have observed an unexpected revival of formats deemed obsolete, such as GIF images or ASCII art, which, surprisingly continue to thrive in Web 2.0. Their rediscovery and burgeoning popularity has a lot to do with the land-grab and corralling of online space by gatekeepers, and can be read as a DIY response to the pursuit of increasingly realistic graphics and animation. Such pockets of grassroots creativity are sometimes referred to as ‘post-Internet’, but they actually retrace the old Internet, less widespread but paradoxically, more available to users, particularly in terms of participation. In the light of such reappearances, it’s worth taking a look at the predecessors of the Web – teletext, and the more advanced videotex service.

The world’s first and most established of the former, British Ceefax, only ceased existence in 2012 as a result of the digital switchover, and the French Minitel videotex service retired in the same year. The replacement of one communication technology with another happened gradually, and their existence – even interoperability – lasted for a long time: until its demise, Ceefax could be accessed via computer using a Mac OS widget. In continental Europe, teletext still enjoys a surprisingly strong following, albeit on the outer periphery of the media world. The Helsinki-based FixC art co-operative, which held their first teletext art festival in 2012, estimate the daily number of Finnish YLE teletext viewers as close to a million daily. In Poland, Telegazeta is still said to reach – according to various studies – between 4 and 20 million users.

Bernard Marti, Page du service de Vidéotex japonais (CAPTAIN) (1979)..
Bernard Marti, Page du service de Vidéotex japonais (CAPTAIN) (1979)..

Such examples of ‘Internet before the Internet’ are interesting for a number of reasons. The television-based services played a similar role to a rudimentary online portal prior to home computers becoming common property. Teletext provided constant access to current, frequently-updated news (which proved to be invaluable in 2001 following the attacks on the WTC, when website servers struggled with interest beyond their limited technical capacities), stock exchange figures, football results and pop charts. The character of teletext displays – heavily pixelated, blocky letters in basic colours, set mainly on a black background – and the long loading times for simple 24-line text pages forced content to be concise. In the UK, Ceefax’s clarity and simplicity was commended by the Plain English Campaign; worldwide, one can argue that it prepared the ground for the conventions of text messaging, online chat and Twitter.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these services was that they facilitated slow, semi-analogue social networking on various levels: they provided an immensely popular pen-pal service (a curious example is the still-thriving Polish Depeche Mode fan network, which developed extensively in the 1990s thanks to Telegazeta) and pages for erotic listings which probably outlived many other teletext-based services, judging by the memories detailed on the Internet. The main obstacle – although it wasn’t comprehended as such at the time –was the fact that contact would eventually have to be consolidated via traditional ‘snail mail’ or telephone, as teletext wasn’t designed for interactive data exchange. Conversely, a less widespread relative of teletext, videotex, was an end-user oriented system which facilitated a remote communication similar to email, webchat or IRC. Interestingly, videotex, with the exception of the clunky, yet immensely successful French Minitel service (essential to French author Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised), never made it big worldwide. Despite this, Minitel historians Benjamin Thierry and Valerie Schafer trace the origins of many now-obvious online solutions (e.g. chatrooms and app stores) to the French network.

Back in the era of 56K modems, the Internet was sometimes referred to as ‘a more extensive teletext’. In the era of its ubiquity, it’s not hard to see why its pioneering predecessors still have something to offer. One aspect is the aforementioned clarity and minimalist design, which – despite the inconvenience of the interface – is more legible than many of today’s websites, which tend to overload the user with distractions and make online reading a fussy challenge. Beyond this, they also provide a valuable reflection on the meaning of the written word in digital communication. Like the computer text adventure games of the early 1980s, teletext and videotex services were based near-exclusively on transcribed verbal exchange, thereby leaving an important space for creativity and imagination. This may explain why they are remembered so fondly, and why such ‘outmoded’ formats are being re-adopted amidst the hi-res, ad-bannered clutter of Web 2.0: they continue to offer active engagement with the mind’s eye, which the push towards photo-realism eradicates, and thereby offer a form of playful resistance. **

Header Image: Bernard Marti, Page Vidéotex d’accueil du service chinois (1986).

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Pox Party release Inter FacePainter.

23 April 2013

Putting the creativity back into the interface, art and funware developers Pox Party have released a new tool allowing for businesses and their users to individualise their own interfaces with Inter FacePainter. Drawing attention to the fact that, despite a history of progress in, say, arts, technology, literature, film, theatre, performance… the abstracted enrichment of the grids and boxes of our digital surroundings has yet to catch up. You can download the app from the Pox Party website and be comforted by the fact that, in having partnered with all the major desktop and OS developers there won’t be any headaches in the near future. InterFacePainter-boring

aqnb’s interest in the duo grew after seeing their talking heads discussing the functional nightmare of Apple’s planned obsolescence on Nik Briz’s prosumer manifesto and while they’re rolling with the punches, don’t’ expect to be able to use the system if you have a Mac OS operating system that is any older than 10.7. But in being, as they call it,  “future proof” the line must be drawn somewhere, so let’s start from here.**

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Rhizome’s ‘Seven on Seven’ rundown.

Rhizome ‘Seven on Seven’ rundown.
22 April 2013

From Friend Fracker to Constant Update, Dabit and Giphnosis, the focus of yesterday’s sold out Rhizome ‘Seven on Seven’ conference was on social media and its power for both good and evil. Simulating what they define as the “data dread” of media bombardment, Fatima Al Qadiri and Dalton Caldwell simulate the anxiety and overload of Constant Update, while Paul Pfeiffer and Alex Chung harnessed the mesmerising powers and bizarre juxtapositions of gif-sharing culture with Giphnosis.

Hitting a more pragmatic note, Harper Reed and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer offered some relief through the random Facebook friend deletion app for the over-acquainted with Friend Fracker, while assistance came in dollars signs from Matthew Ritchie and Billy Chasen with their charity website, Dabit, that “gives back” by randomly allocating 50% of all donations to one donor. It’s an inclusive attitude that bore Cameron Martin and Tara Tiger Brown’s real-time crowdsourced learning with 3DHelper. Meanwhile, Jeremy Bailey and Julie Uhrmann stole the show by transferring the inherent narcissism exposed by social media into creating a new form of self-presentation, while illness and conflicting visions saw Jill Magid and  Dennis Crowley come up with not very much at all.**

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Rhizome ‘Seven on Seven’ Conference.

Rhizome 'Seven on Seven' Conference.
3 April 2013

New York’s The New School continues to live up to its reputation as being founded on innovation by hosting Rhizome’s Seven on Seven Conference on Saturday, April 20. Recognising the intersection of art and science as the way forward, the event will be pairing seven significant contemporary artists, with seven equally compelling technologists and challenging them to create something new.

Featuring the likes of artists Fatima Al Qadiri, Jill Magid and Jeremy Bailey on one end, and developers Julie Urhmann, Tiger Tara Brown and Dennis Crowley on the other, there is no limit to what the artists are allowed to produce, across media and disciplines. With author of The Net Delusion, Evgeny Morozov, giving the keynote speech, anyone on the other side of the Atlantic can only hope there’ll be stream to follow. **

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Post Secret app

18 September 2011

Post Secret is some sort of obligated visit once in a while, for your personal soul, as a worries pacifier or as a voyeuristic window to the rest of the world’s dark secrets. An amazing blog (then website, published books, art exhibitions, international versions…) initiated by Frank Warren back in 2005.

At first  10 secrets were published each Sunday, now they claim “over a half-million soulful, sexual, and silly secrets which have been mailed to PostSecret”. A phenomena which has turned the blog into a veritable goldmine, more than 1 million facebook followers and nearly 0.5 million on twitter…. but at the same time PS has become a great wall where to express many frustrations, in fact since 2008 Warren teamed up with 1-800 suicide to run some crisis hotlines on college campuses.

Post Secret for iPhone
Post Secret for iPhone

And because receiving secrets over mail isn’t enough Frank thought an app could be even better… and probably the best way to adapt to our digital times of ubiquitous status sharing . Released a couple of weeks ago & produced by bonobolabs the 2$ PS app (for now only on iTunes but should arrive to Android soon) brings you the possibility to discover local secrets (some dirty, some funny…) while sharing your own, reaching out anonymously or even contacting helplines if needed. Really worth downloading.

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