I/O/D 4: The Web Stalker
I/O/D 4: The „Web Stalker” is a software application for reading and manipulating information on the most popular portion of the Internet – the World Wide Web. It is free to download from the I/O/D Website. The „Web Stalker” is a unique example of the re-visualisation of data-space at a deep level by artists. The „Web Stalker” uses the fact of machinic and interpersonal communication across the network, and the technological structure and functions of the network to radically amplify or reroute them.
Most artistic work on the Web is channelled into providing content for Websites. These sites are bound to the way that Browsers interpret the mark-up language (HTML) which describes and formats Web Documents. It is the Browser’s interpretation of HTML that shapes most people’s conception of the Internet. Despite terabytes of „content-provision” by artists, these conventions remain impervious. They therefore remain the most dominant æsthetic on the Internet. HTML appears to the computer as a stream of data. The presence of individual HTML elements – tags – result in specific operations being carried out on the user’s computer depending on the software they use to receive and interpret this data. The opportunity for this project arises in the idea that this data could be formatted for viewing in any of a wide variety of configurations.
The „Web Stalker” performs a technical and æsthetic operation on the HTML stream that at once refines it, produces new methods of use, ignores much of the data linked to or embedded within it, and provides a mechanism through which the deeper structure of the Web can be explored and used. The Map makes the links between HTML documents. Each URL is a circle, every link is a line. Sites with more lines feeding into them have brighter circles. Filched data coruscating with the simple fact of how many and which sites connect to boredom.com, extreme.net or wherever. (Unless it’s been listed on the customisable ignore.txt file tucked into the back of the Stalker.) Every articulation of the figure composing itself on screen is simply each link being followed through. The map spreads out flat in every direction, forging connections rather than faking locations. Whilst the Browser just gives you history under the Go menu, the Map swerves past whichever bit of paper is being pressed up to the inside of the screen to govern the next hours of click-through time, by developing into the future – picking locks as it goes.
The „Web Stalker’s” refined æsthetic and technical intervention re-proposes the Internet as a space of invention rather than proprietary culture and proposes that a new, speculative engagement with software as a key locus of contemporary culture is one that is an increasingly essential and fruitful one for artists and others to make.
A key factor in the shape of the program and the project as a whole is the language it was written in: Lingo, the language
within Macromedia Director – a program normally used for building multimedia products and presentations. This is to say the least a gawky angle to approach writing any application. But it was used for two reasons – it gave us very good control over interface design and because NetLingo was just being introduced, but more importantly because within the skill-base of I/O/D, that was what we had. That it was done anyway is, we hope, an encouragement to those who have the „wrong” skills and few resources but a hunger to get things done, and a provocation to those who are highly skilled and equipped but never do anything.
Matthew Fuller, Colin Green, Simon Pope (GB), I/O/D 4: The Web Stalker, 1997