Fudge the Facts

forever a pupil

The launch of SuperGlue

(box cover of SuperGlue mini-server)

Yesterday I moderated an evening with media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, digital folklore archivist and net art pioneer Olia Lialina, and the developers of SuperGlue, the follow-up to HotGlue. The event marked the launch of the platform, which enables users not only to design their own website within a browser interface, but also run it from a mini-server installed in their own homes.

Rushkoff was the first to speak via Skype, and he talked about the nature of early communication (IP to IP, the Well…), which although limited in terms of bandwidth (certainly no Skype video chats back then), was nonetheless a decentralized form communication. This model of a distributed network was contrasted to our current reliance on centralized media giants such as Facebook and Google; in other words, platforms that need to secure their ubiquity and dominance to both monetize and monopolize our data. For him projects like SuperGlue, offer a means of circumventing these monopolies, and remind us of network architectures, which have not disappeared but are underused.

Olia Lialina talked about the vernacular of the early web, a period she notes which squeezed many years into a few (a notion of condensed time perhaps). Moving through archived GeoCities homepages, she spoke about the commonalities and quirks indicative of early nineties webpages. Prior to the world of CMS skinned with CSS, this was the hallmark of an era of web design based on amateur enchantment, digital DIY, GeoCities clip art and slogans such as “Welcome to my homepage”.

Overall her talk was not about dwelling in nostalgia, but rather focused on celebrating the role of users in defining their own website identity without genericizing templates. This actually provided a smooth segway to SuperGlue and a discussion with some of its developers, Danja Vasiliev, Joscha Jaeger, Michael Zeder, Abigail Smith and Erwin Kho. (Teresa Dillon was unable to attend).

As a design tool, the interface offers different levels entry. Depending on your expertise (or even interest for that matter), you can design your site by dropping and dragging elements across a webpage, or work directly with html. Users can share visual elements and create their own repositories of what could be analogous to clip art – albeit with more contemporary streamlined aesthetics. But what is important to remember is that nothing is centrally stored – instead your storage unit is this mini-server, which as you can tell is plugged into the wall in much the same way as an Apple Airport Express.

(SuperGlue mini-server minus usb storage)

Why is this significant? Becuase it connects tools of design (software) to infrastructure (hardware/networks). While modest in capability, it will accomodate users with standard web traffic and relatively light content.  It’s  an option offering plenty of room for play, and as illustrated in the below promo video, it gives you more control of how and when you want to connect to the network. (see SuperGlue’s promo video)

Superglue animation from WORM on Vimeo.

At this juncture what is difficult to gauge is long term sustainability; by this I mean what will be the underlying supportive economy (gift, donation, cultural subsidies, user contributions in either labor or kind, or pure capital investment), which keeps SuperGlue up to date and operational. In the same way these questions are levied against platforms like ELLO, it’s important to ask the same about projects like these. If you migrate your content to SuperGlue, you want to know how long it will last, will the userbase be broad enough to fuel its development, and will it have the structural robustness to sustain changes in webstandards.  Or (and I say this without any sense of cynicism) is it something symbolic, a reference to a potential parallel network, which wakes us up, if even temporarily, from our blue and white Facebook slumber.

Ello, Ello, hello….. I’m beta testing

Of course everyone would love to see a rival to the behemoth Facebook, and moreover an alternative to the politics of datamining it engages in. No one wants to see their subjectivity and relations turned into capital or conceived as a profit-making scheme, especially when the dividends are not shared amongst its users.

However, as of yet there have been no viable candidates to challenge the platform. Suffice it to say; most us have a longing for things to be otherwise. As a result, with each offer of a new alternative, hopes run high, criticism about Silicon Valley’s economies are abundant, and upon implementation, expectations are quickly deflated. One need only look at Diaspora for an illustration of a similar narrative arc.

Now hopes are pinned on Ello, a platform with a manifesto stating: “Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe there is a better way. ”

Sounds good in promise. The platform is also initiated by Paul Budnitz, who it should be noted, studied photography, sculpture, and film at Yale University. This background places him slightly outside the tradition of computer science and engineering geeks (this is said with a great deal of affection). As an entrepreneur, he’s hip, he started Kidrobot, the company that gave us those cute little graffiti style plastic rabbits (call it the Swatch approach to toys and branding), and he even owns and runs a company that produces luxury bicycles (I’ll come back to this).

In other words, at least on the surface, he’s the opposite of Mark Zuckerberg, or someone like Larry Page; he’s the perfect poster child of what rhetorically, the creative industries would have us become. I say us, because I’m the director of a small graduate art institute. Anyone currently working within an art school knows the pressure to conform to the promises of the creative industries and is bombarded with its jargon. After all, this model moves us out of depending on classical patronage (something well worth interrogating), takes us away from the academic ivory tower and brings us into contact with what supposedly matters – big business, consumerism and as the term clearly states “industries”.

In this paradigm creativity and innovation go hand in hand. It’s the perfect formula, however the one thing we’re discouraged from questioning are the very foundations and economic underpinnings that drive these industries, or the fact that innovation (as conceived in this context) might be taking us to a place that is ultimately unsustainable for ourselves and the environment.

Suffice it to say, that while different from someone like Zuckerberg, Budnitz’s endgame however may ultimately be the same. Already, they’ve taken the route of all start-ups – investors have contributed a substantial amount of funding, and a large investment always means stakeholders will want something back. It’s unlikely, that the return will be about protecting user data or being satisfied with helping us better connect with our friends. With these kinds of platforms, the script (both embedded in the code and constructed norms of the behavioral regime) is somewhat predictable – it is inevitably connected to a bigger agenda and a larger economic structure.

So, why am I beta testing despite Ello? Am I being cynical…. can’t we just return to a decentralized model? Certainly the latter has its virtues and there are plenty of people out there championing that cause – look at Thimbl – it’s a great project, but that said it is exactly that, a project – of limited scope and reach, which operates on a representational register, pointing towards an Internet that was. This is different than a fully functional social network where my 90-year-old grandmother can connect to me as well as my more tech savvy friends.

Making compromises or at times feeling compromised seems to sum up the times we’re in. While riding my bike, I’m thinking about the implications of all of this. As someone who resides in the Netherlands, my bike is a necessity. It’s my primary mode of transportation. Admittedly, I find slightly irksome that I’m surrendering to someone who is turning bikes into luxury goods. But I suppose luxury bikes are better than gas guzzling SUVs in the scheme of things. And here’s the conundrum, I’m looking for alternatives; that is, social platforms that are functional, rather than symbolic. Whether Ello is more equitable, less exploitative of our data, and reliant on different economies has yet to be established – it might in fact be another gas guzzling (datamining) option. But without anything else out there, continuing to pedal is all I can do…..

The Fortune Cookie

V. Vale at PrintRoom

Yesterday at PrintRoom, a conversational drift with V. Vale, musician, writer and engine behind RE/Search Publications.

Endless threads were started, dropped, and taken up again – albeit in different directions. Much like the audience, the moderators, Karin de Jong and Florian Cramer could only surrender to Vale’s ebbs and flows.

While impossible to pinpoint an overarching theme, it was clear San Francisco’s Beat generation heavily influenced the Punk scene. Rather than being informed by nihilism and boredom – Vale’s Punk was infused with curiosity, channeling, chance, making things, and last but not least, anger.

Here are a few quotes I gleaned from his endless stream:

“Bruce Conner gave me this idea that maybe all undergrounds are the same…”

“It’s so fun to be an amateur anthropologist.”

“So, let me return to this idea that if all undergrounds are the same…well, they aren’t really…”

“Punk is really informed by paranoia.”

Walking Berlin

Moving through Berlin – I’m astounded by the construction and general gentrification.  If every construction site became a space of poetry – what an even more wondrous place this would be.

Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology By Barrie Tullett

I’ll definitely be ordering this little gem, which explores the the precursor to ascii art. (apparently with stenography included in its history…)

You can order the book from here, and design critic, Rick Poynor, explores the subject further here.

Master Interior Architecture and Retail Design projects in Milan: Instruments. Reimaging the Music Room

Wishing I could be in Milan to see this project in the flesh – of course I witnessed the evolution of prototypes in the MIARD studios, but curious about the installation and the way the works come together as a visual and aural experience at the Ventura Lambrate.  Luckily, others have volunteered to be my eyes and ears there.

“Instruments. Reimaging the Music Room, is an exhibition that centres on the theme of the domestic soundscape and the place of music in the home. The study explores the detection and recognition of an immaterial audio presence or sonic architectures that exists in the home, engendered by our domestic rituals, their space and objects. This audio presence requires the inhabitant to recognize a spatial acuteness, cognition, and mapping, which isn’t necessarily rational, visible or haptic. In turn, the inquiry has generated projects, which offer novel design solutions and alternative ‘sonic’ experiences for contemporary home life.” Read more about Instruments. Reimaging the Music Room

Fred Rogers – a little grattitude for more than just a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Fred Rogers died on February 27th 2003.

For kids of my generation, Mr. Rogers was a daily staple of television viewing.  Glued to the tube,  Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood represented everything wholesome and innocent about America.  Knitted sweaters, clean-cut hair – no matter what decade of the broadcast, he was a legacy of the fifties aesthetic; a man who was neatly Brylcreemed and still adorned navy blue canvas sneakers with bright white soles.

Addressing little viewers with lines like – “let’s play make believe” – and – “You make each day a special day. You know how?  By just your being you. ” – he enchanted children, and conversely became the fodder for many perversely twisted adult jokes – inclusive of Eddie Murphy imitating him on a Saturday Night Live skit called Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood – needless to say the hood was not as quaint.

Endearing to some and comical to others, Mr. Rogers was much more than I realized at the time – he was a vegetarian, a Presbyterian minister and a champion of the right to copy. During the infamous case of the Sony Corporation of America versus Universal City Studios Inc., or Betamax case as it was more commonly referred to in the early eighties, Rogers testified in defense of the right to record his program on personal VCRs saying:

Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the “Neighborhood” at hours when some children cannot use it … I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the “Neighborhood” off-the-air, and I’m speaking for the “Neighborhood” because that’s what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been “You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.” Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.

So a little gratitude to the man who not only brought us to the Land of Make Believe, but also helped in guaranteeing our right to record and view.



De Geuzen, Other Projects & Collaborations

Next to my other work, I've collaborated with Riek Sijbring and Femke Snelting under the name of De Geuzen since 1996. Below you'll find links to De Geuzen's main site and selected projects which have radically informed my thinking about visual research, digital writing and narratives. It is important to note that some of these works have collapsed with the evolution of the web, nonetheless I keep their traces online as an archive of an earlier internet.