ART 2.0 A blog about ART - Specifically art that is made and resides in the cyber world.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Problem with Internet Scale

Much of my recent work is concerned with the idea of scale on the internet. I am in awe of the vast amount of information available in cyberspace. Not only does the internet already harbor larger amounts of data than the human mind can wrap itself around but, theoretically, it has the potential to keep infinitely more. Drawings that are too big to exist in the physical world can reside digitally, requiring only a modest amount of disk space. Ballentine the Bird attempts to attest to this reality but, ultimately, falls a bit short.

Ballentine is 30 feet long and 20 feet tall @72 pixels per inch (72ppi is the resolution at which I drew her... though I did in fact later print her at a size manageable in the physical world by raising the resolution to 300ppi). She is made viewable within the constraints of a small browser window by using a similar technology to the one that Google Maps uses: AJAX allows the viewer to zoom in to full size and zoom out to see the drawing in its entirety.

I thought that the idea of a T-Rex sized bird existing in cyberspace would stoke the imaginations of her viewers and make visual the concept of Internet Scale. Ballentine did not have this effect. Viewers failed to grasp her magnitude. It took a greater mental leap to imagine her relative size than I can reasonably expect of my work's target audience (this is the work's failure, not the viewer's). After conversations with my colleagues, it has become evident that, within the limited browsing capabilities of the common internet user, it is not natural to perceive the Internet as having spacial characteristics (other than perhaps scrolling down to read text?). Browsers do such a great job of distilling web content to consumable portions that the average user has little reason to think beyond what is rendered in their 900 x 1,200 pixel window. And search engines, by nature, do their best to cut the entire internet down to a few simple results. Because the average site is so easily cropped, shrunk, edited, and doled, web content is seen as having no size at all. Why should I expect viewers to look at Ballentine differently?

(It makes perfect sense that the internet has evolved this way, I'm not contending that something about this system is "wrong")

My recent thinking is revolving around this issue. Viewers shouldn't be expected to naturally ponder the concepts of Internet Scale, I need to find a more effective way to elicit such a response in my work. I have several ideas brewing...


  1. SWEET! this is looking great! i really am intrigued by the idea of putting your (or the work's) shortcomings out for everyone to see! (one grammer thing you may wanna fix in the second to last paragraph toward the end it says "web content is seen as have no size at all." i think you meant "having".) it is really exciting to think about how you might solve these scale problems. oh, i also have an idea about collaboration for the prize: what about this title as a beginning "Cabinet of Curiousities: a Game". just a thought.