Somebody: A New Messaging Service by Miranda July

Miranda July's messaging service Somebody is presented as part of First Look, the New Museum's ongoing series of digital projects, now co-curated and copresented by Rhizome. Because the app relies on face-to-face interaction, the New Museum (along with other sites around the world) will serve as a "hotspot" for users of the app. 

Miranda July, Somebody, 2014 (still, featuring July). Video, dir. Miranda July. Courtesy the artist and Miu Miu.

"Texting is tacky. Calling is awkward. Email is old." —Miranda July

In Miranda July's 1998 experimental video The Amateurist, a young woman with a jet-black pixie haircut in a stiff professional dress (played by July) studies a TV set displaying a fuzzy surveillance feed of a blonde woman (also played by July), who is squirming in the corner of a small cell. While speaking to the camera, the pixied professional reels off all sorts of absurd quantifications and explanations of the surveilled woman's movements. She maps her emotions to a numbered grid, psychoanalyzes her behavior, quips about her habits, and consistently runs roughshod across boundaries between doctor and patient, subject and object, viewer and viewed, public and private, in what is ultimately an excessive examination without any apparent justification. Since the video was produced, July's body of work has expanded from video and performance to include online works, novels, and feature films—all of which attempt to dissolve boundaries between fictionalized personae, or between the artist and her audience. It's significant to note that July started out in the experimental-video scene of the '90s, since so much of her work is about how the adaptation of new technologies affects us on a very personal level. Regardless of medium, her works reflect how broad social changes inflect our most intimate relations.

Miranda July, The Amateurist (1998). Still image from single channel video.

July's new iOS application, Somebody™, which the New Museum is proud to copresent as part of a distributed international launch with multiple international partners (see list below), continues these profound investigations into the ways technology mediates our interpersonal communications.

July describes this new messaging service in the following way:

"When you send your friend a message through Somebody, it goes—not to your friend—but to the Somebody user nearest your friend. This person (probably a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in."

Somebody is available as a free download via the iTunes Store, and somebodyapp.com can be visited for an overview of the work.

An accompanying video by July will also be screened in the New Museum's Lobby. The artist will speak about Somebody at the New Museum on October 9 (details to come).

 

Notes about Somebody:

• You can choose actions and directions for your stand-in, such as [cry] or [hug]—or write your own.
• The recipient always has the option of declining a delivery before the message is set in motion, if now's not a good time.
• The first sentence of the message is automatically "[Recipient's name]? It's me, [Sender's Name]," thus reminding the stand-in to assume the identity of the sender.
• Somebody uses GPS to locate your friend, then presents you with photos and performance ratings of nearby users so you can choose the best possible delivery person for your message.
• If there's no one nearby, you can choose to "float" your message indefinitely. Users interested in being a stand-in can browse nearby floating messages and pick one to deliver.

Somebody was created with support from Miu Miu. Official Somebody hotspots so far include Los Angeles County Museum of Art (with a presentation by July on September 11); the New Museum (presentation on October 9); Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Portland Institute of Contemporary Art; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Museo Jumex, Mexico City. Museum-goers are invited to send and deliver messages in these spaces where there are likely to be other users.

About Miranda July

Miranda July is a filmmaker, artist, and writer. She wrote, directed, and starred in The Future (2011) and Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), which won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Caméra d'Or. July's fiction has appeared in the Paris Review,Harper's magazine, and the New Yorker; her collection of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007), won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and has been published in twenty-three countries. The nonfictional work It Chooses You was published in 2011. In 2000, July created the participatory websiteLearning to Love You More with artist Harrell Fletcher, and a companion book was published in 2007; the work is now in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She designed Eleven Heavy Things, an interactive sculpture garden, for the 2009 Venice Biennale, and in 2013, more than a hundred thousand people subscribed to her email-based artwork We Think Alone (commissioned by Magasin 3, Stockholm). In 2014, she debuts the audience participatory performance New Society at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and launches the app Somebody, a messaging service created with the support of Miu Miu. The First Bad Man, a novel, will be published in January 2015. Raised in Berkeley, California, July lives in Los Angeles.

Sponsors 

First Look is made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Additional support provided by the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.

Vote Now for the Internet Art Microgrants

Classic browser-based work Agatha Appears (1997) by Olia Lialina

Voting for the five $500 internet art microgrants begins today.

Rhizome community members (you'll need to log in to vote) will narrow the 140+ proposals to a list of 20, from which our (to be announced soon) special guest juror will award five microgrants. Each voter will have three votes to be apportioned to three separate projects — once you vote for something, it disappears from the list. The proposals are spread out over 19 pages, but their order randomizes with each voter.

As we've noted before, the proposals were beyond heartening. In particular, the diversity of projects — from a parody celebrity game, to a weblog for a cooling tower sculpture, to gifs, to culture jamming — illustrates the richness of browser-based work in 2014.

So, go vote! And, best of luck to the entrants.

Artist Profile: Femke Herregraven

The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Screen capture from Femke Herregraven, Taxodus (video game, 2013).

LC: The most publicized of your works is Taxodus, a online game for tax evasion. At the time, you made the game as a way to materialize and map out what you call "a geography of avoidance"—a study of the obfuscatory strategies used by the finance industry that emphasizes their reshaping of space, place and nationhood. Is the game a realistic simulation? Is it important that it is realistic? Might it also be a valuable tool for people who work in finance?

FH: In Taxodus players are "acting" on behalf of multinationals and have to dodge paying as much tax as they can. By setting up intermediate holdings globally, players reveal potential routes through which multinationals in reality can "neutralize" their tax burdens. Players that escape the most tax rank high in the high scores.

The data in the game—national corporate tax rates, withholding taxes and treaties from countries worldwide—is realistic but the mechanisms to set up companies and calculate income and tax are simplified. In reality there are many more parameters involved on a corporate, national and international level; it would be impossible to incorporate them all in a game. I know some big accountancy firms have tried to develop software that basically cough up a fiscal advice, but it failed because it was too complex and expensive. In reality, fiscal structures are highly customized per company and it seems impossible to make a 1:1 simulation of this tax planning industry.

After Taxodus was launched I know some people from the industry were speculating on these kind of tools that could spark cloud accounting and break the monopoly of the Big Four, giving small accountants a chance. A sort of democratization of fiscal advising. But Taxodus is a beta version and was developed in only a few months. The intention was not to make a hyper-realistic fiscal lawyer bot, but to make the basic principles and mechanisms behind the tax planning industry accessible for you and me. Most of data in the game is not public or easily accessible but behind paywalls that only accountancy firms can afford. For me, Taxodus is a public interface to this data and an experimental research model. I could have made a bunch of data visualisations for example but I wanted to make the audience dodge tax themselves. I think by playing you understand more of how companies cut up their legal bodies in order to organize their income most profitably. When playing, your generated tax route gets uploaded as a fiscal annual report and is accessible in a public database. Taxodus was about making corporate tax avoidance accessible for everyone and facilitating a public platform for dialogue and research. As for the people I know from the industry, so far they have been getting all the high scores.

LC: You are working on a new project on the fiber optic cables which facilitate high frequency trading. Why are you interested in this technology in particular, and how has that research manifested itself?

FH: Optic fiber cable has been around for 30 years and now, in relation to high frequency trading, is probably becoming a thing of the past. New trading lines consisting of radio towers that transmit microwaves are increasingly popping up because they cut latency by up to a millisecond. In high frequency trading this could mean a difference of millions of dollars. Having said that, I think it's important to realize that more than 90% of our data still run through cables in the soil and ocean floors. The "cloud" is more like a never-ending plate of spaghetti. I'm researching this physical backbone of the financial world for some years now, with a large focus on submarine cables. I'm interested in the never-ending rat race for reducing latency and maximizing speed—that is as old as telecommunications itself. The contemporary infrastructural endeavours undertaken to cut down milliseconds are immense in terms of scale and money but surely have their equivalents in the past. The first transatlantic cable from is often referred to as the Apollo Moon project of the Victorian era. I explore how this quest for speed affects our daily life, surroundings, landscapes and geopolitical imagination.

The All Infrared Line – 14 (France), 2012-2014. Coastal fortification from WOII situated at current submarine cable landing point..

In general my work often starts with collecting information and objects that are difficult to obtain, or by visiting places that have a hidden function or are difficult to access. I aim at identifying borders—whether physical or in the information sphere—and finding personal strategies to trespass them. I visit places that play for me a relevant role in the offshore economy—from traditional financial centers, to tropical islands or wanna-be Special Economic Zones. There I draw, photograph and film the often hidden infrastructure that stitches this specific place into the global network of offshore finance. It is a sort of treasure hunt with the treasure being the most boring things you can imagine such as plugs, doors, walls and cables. This interests me very much. Infrastructures—like cables, tax laws or patents—are most of the time utterly boring, technical and hermetic. They run in the background so society can continue with its activities on the foreground. And yet, their implementation and operations are never smooth but create conflicts and inequality. You can find a lot of information about all these things online but working on the ground helps me to get a better understanding of the tensions and power structures that these infrastructures put into play.

Right now, for example, while answering your questions, I'm in the sub-Arctic for a new work that deals with how the financial markets will be influenced by climate change. One element of that work is the emerging possibility to lay submarine cables on the Arctic sea bed because of the melting ice. Although at this moment the actual realization of these cables is problematic on many levels, so plans will probably be realized in the near future. At that point these Arctic cables will shortcut the connection between the financial markets of London en Tokyo that are now linked via the Middle-East or the Pacific. Latency is expected to drop substantially. Global warming is literally opening up new paths for trading algorithms—and surveillance.

LC: When you speak about materiality within finance it leads to a discussion about the materiality of the technologies which facilitate exchange of capital. Often I see you tracing the origins of those materials, such as the plant which produces the rubber for early telegraph cables—which then became the carrier for internet traffic. How does history and technology come into play in your work?

FH: For me, dealing with infrastructures also means dealing with a large timescale. The backbone of the financial world is an accumulation of technology, innovation, capital, labor, conflicts but also time. Historical research plays a large role in my work. I've been working for a long time on how the contemporary geography of offshore financial centers is intertwined with spatial organization of the old colonial British Empire. Half way the 19th century British colonies were connected to the City of London in global spiderweb of early telegraph lines. Many Caribbean islands became parking places for capital in the 1970s because they were tightly wired up in the global telecommunication system and yet distant enough to not contaminate the center of the Commonwealth. This work takes form of collecting historical documents and objects and now, more recently, in producing a series of new objects that deal with the materiality.

Through my work I explore the changing relation between capital flows and materiality. Where wealth once had a material condition and was contextualized by its territory it is now disconnected from a specific place, labour or material production. In finance money is purely made from the circulation of money. It can materialize from itself—it's like alchemy. It's quite interesting how the dematerialization of money in the late 1960s early 1970s coincided with concepts on the dematerialization of the art object. Capital flows are mostly read through a language similar to art: abstraction, signs, ideas, information and linguistic exchange. In my work I intend to melt finance back again into a material condition. Infrastructure is crucial in this process. The backbone that allows capital to be disconnected from material conditions is built from limited resources and manifests itself as highly material in our physical surrounding. The natural rubber you mentioned, was for early telegraph lines in the Victorian age the holy grail, similar to as what coltan is now for mobile phones and devices in our digital age. The sudden and tremendous demand for a specific materials that comes along with the emergence of a new technology activates many new conflicts over materials, ownership and territory. Since finance is now mainly a question of technology there is for me an urgency in stressing the connections between for example latency and plants, trading algorithms and melting ice or colocation and landing points. I think for many of us it's very difficult to understand how money is made in the financial markets. Highly complex financial products, trading algorithms, it's mostly a immaterial black box—even for traders. The irony is that the stakes of financial investments are often material ones. Investors bet on the spread of ebola, wheat scarcity or how real estate prices drops because of rising sea levels. It's funny how bad I was in economy at high school. Those calculations and charts—it just was too abstract for me. I guess that is reflected in the way I approach the financial world in my work. Stressing the connections between finance, places and material conditions is my strategy for getting an understanding of how the financial markets influence and shape our societies.

Femke Herregraven at TEDx Vaduz. (Video).

LC: How do you think of your own practice, as artist and as designer and as researcher? Do you find it productive to cross disciplinary boundaries? How do you feel about these terms which are used to describe what it is you do, display of research and how it becomes contextualized in public?

FH: My work gets labelled in different ways and I like that ambiguity. It means its open enough to engage with different fields. Yet, the mechanisms and results in for example art and design are very different. The same work can be shown and evaluated from completely different criteria. This can be complicated as maker but it creates a rich feedback loop at the same time. In my practice I create research in the form of indexes, maps, texts, interviews, drawings, photos and videos. Sometimes the research is the actual work, other times I make a new work in the form of installations, publications, games or prints. I think of my work as tools or manuals that can help me—or someone else—navigate, deconstruct or reflect on complex matters such as the financial world. An emerging question is how I present my work online or through the format of an exhibition. I guess because of my background in design it is not always natural that the work is being displayed instead of being used.

Talking about the cross-disciplinary, I'm also part of Bitcaves, a collective for design and research. Basically it's an umbrella for all sorts of things: commissions, residencies and cross-disciplinary collaborations. Next to working individually it's for us valuable to be part of a collective. It's nice to be able to switch between different modes of working and collaborate with different types of makers. In general I connect with people from different disciplines through my work, such as academics, business people, journalists, craftsmen, financial experts. When you dive into something thoroughly you naturally end up with a mosaic of people outside of your field. Sometimes you meet people you prefer not to work with but it's unavoidable because you clutter together around a very specific interest or expertise. Around your own work you naturally construct some sort of family. A family is by nature a diverse and cross-disciplinary social group that no member entered voluntary. Yet, the dynamics and exchange within that family—even with the pedantic uncle, nervous aunt or on-hormones-tripping cousin—are, for me, crucial as a human being and as an artist.


Questionnaire

Age: 31

Location: Amsterdam/Kirkeness/Murmansk

How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?I actually grew up around analog tools. There was always lots of carpeting and construction going on which I liked a lot. So for me it was probably more software: I think it was Photoshop in high school. I was so amazed by that stamp and air brush function, I was clicking and dragging for hours.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I did a bachelor in graphic design at Artez Arnhem and a master in design at Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. Both studies have a strong research component in which students are challenged to developed their own questions and research around things that they feel personally engaged with.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?

I'm an artist/designer/researcher. Next to that I teach design research one day a week at Artez Arnhem, and have done that at Sandberg Institute last year. I have also worked part time in a butchery for 7 years. Which looking back now was actually very useful. Meat is also at the center of a very complex industry. In those twelve hour working days I think I unconsciously learned some skills and strategies that have proved their usefulness today. Kinda from meat infrastructure to money infrastructure you could say ;-)

What does your desktop or workspace look like?

A never ending mess—which is very comforting to me.

NewHive: A “Blank Canvas” for the Super-Feed

Screenshot of booty by ana carrete from NewHive.

NewHive is a new service for creative expression online. Founded by Zach Verdin, Cara Buccifero, Andrew Sorkin (who later left the company), and Abram Clark in Seattle, the company launched in private beta in November 2011 with the public launch in 2012. The website describes itself as a "blank canvas" for expression on the web, offering users a drag-and-drop interface to construct anything they like, within the confines of a browser. 

This year has seen certain communities gravitate towards the site, with the new issue of poetry journal Pop Serial being built entirely on NewHive, and a visual mixtape featuring original tracks from a number of musicians launching in September. I'm interested in NewHive, and I like a lot of things that are made on it. I'm particularly interested in the alt lit community's attraction to it, perhaps because it is a convenient platform for people working with text to explore their practice in increasingly visual or hybrid ways. At the same time, I'm skeptical of its claim to be a "blank canvas," which obfuscates the aesthetic and political assumptions that it—that any cultural interface—reproduces.

To think about this further, I reached out to one of the company's founders, Zach Verdin, and a number of the artists who use it. The exchanges are reproduced in full below. The artists discuss NewHive in highly pragmatic terms, as a tool that fits seamlessly into an everyday creative practice, allowing them to create stuff easily and beyond the scope of other existing platforms. Verdin also cites the simplicity of NewHive, but frames it in much loftier terms. He and his co-founders refer to self-expression as a "universal truth," alongside food, water, and shelter. When, in our conversation, Verdin described the website as "magic," it was in keeping with the idealistic language that often surrounds tech startups, but it was also hard not to think of it as sleight-of-hand, coming as it does from a founder who stands to profit greatly if the site continues to succeed.

One reason to think it might do so is the way in which newhives can be conveniently inserted into the feeds of other sites such as Facebook. The site's aim for its content (which it used to refer to as "expressions" and is now calling "newhives") to be as conveniently redistributable as YouTube can be seen as one of its central aesthetic impositions or constraints. Still, I feel excited that, even as our web habits are increasingly dominated by endless scrolling, there is a new social platform online that isn't Tumblr or Twitter and that explicitly encourages weirdness.  I look forward to seeing more diverse types of multimedia practices popping up all over the super-feed. 

Zach Verdin, CEO NewHive

Why did you decide to start NewHive?

NewHive started as a conversation about how we wanted to interact with each other online, and has gone through various transformations since. When the first version of NewHive was built, we were living very simply on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle. We wanted a reflection of that experience in a digital space. Our focus was on the "four universal truths" as we saw them--food, water, shelter, and self-expression. We sought to provide people with a blank canvas, space for self-expression, and a network of allies. We also talked a lot about the democratization of media, before it was a buzzword, and our intention became to effectively create culture. What we found was that a whole new type of art has emerged on NewHive. In the past year we've become especially committed to fostering these new multi-media art forms by recognizing, supporting, and promoting emerging and established artists whose work we find pushes the edge, and excites us.

Do you see yourselves as a community or a tool?

NewHive is a multimedia publishing platform with a very powerful user interface for creating web pages and Network. Some of the manifestations we've seen are for Art with a capital "A", art with a lowercase "a", poetics, academia, music, social commentary, gallery shows, diaries, and embedding newhives into websites that have limitations on their own visual capabilities, or would require a large of amount of technical expertise. In the coming months our homepage is going to become a curatorial destination, with new projects featured regularly, and we also want people to take their newhive's into other realms—both URL and IRL—and create their own communities.

Does NewHive have a "world" it exists in, such as the art world or the tech world? Or would it rather challenge these types of distinctions?

It is the people that use NewHive who challenge these distinctions. They are the ones who are taking their newhives into new realms, and creating new realms. We're just providing them with the space and the tools.

Do you have people who use NewHive who are not artists? If so, what kind of function does the website serve for them?

Yes, a lot of people use it for play and experimentation. Newhives have functioned as visual diaries and written diaries. There have been essays, music videos, a songbook, collages, a compilation of physics information. There are also a number of universities that use it for class projects.

I'm intrigued that you mentioned (in conversation with me) that you thought of yourselves as a "YouTube for webpages". Could you talk about that? Would you ever imagine NewHive existing on the same scale as YouTube?

Yes, that's true in terms of the ability to put newhives into different places online. We have a similar embed capability to YouTube, in that newhives are transportable. Providing this kind of interoperability is core to our ethos.

I think the real question is whether multimedia art will impact culture like music and film have. My sense is that it will. We're at a moment where tools for artistic expression are becoming more accessible and people are seeking out this content on a massive scale. NewHive is leading a movement which focuses on ease of use for everyone - from classically trained artists to tumblr kids. Allowing people to share video content regardless of technical expertise is what YouTube accomplished, and NewHive does the same for webpages.

HTML/CSS on the web is already quite democratic - you can, for the most part, look at source code, copy, paste, steal, rework. Is NewHive, as a drag and drop builder, further democratising this process, or enclosing it? Or are those the wrong terms with which to think about what you guys are doing?

There are obviously lots of hardcore coders online who enjoy writing HTML, and for those people we're working on a code editor. For those who aren't code junkies, one good way to teach people to code is to view it through the lens of art. Also, to make it playful. By allowing people to communicate visually, we open the web up for people who can envision what they want a page to look like, but have felt limited by a terminal. Some of those same people are now adding custom CSS and JS libraries to their newhives, which is exciting.

Might we think of newhives as commodities or products? Or not?

NewHive is a new way to communicate. We believe there is magic when pure expression finds an inspired audience, and that creative expression, technology, and Capitalism don't have to be mutually exclusive. In many ways an artist today is put in the position of being a digital strategist and a business person. We'd like to allow each artists to control how their art is accessed and priced. First and foremost though, we'd like to think of NewHive as a form of magic. 

Stephen Michael McDowell, writer

Why have you gravitated towards NewHive as a platform for expression?

once i was introduced to newhive & realized its capabilities i felt somehow both in-awe & nostalgic. when i talk abt it to ppl who havent heard of it i refer to it as 'what i thought the internet was going to be when i 1st heard abt it in the 90s, before realizing that learning html & css were prerequisites to doing anything fun'. i feel like its the obvious choice for anyone doing creative work. the website seems as obvious & essential to me as an artist now as adobe suite & i imagine that future iterations of newhive may render some adobe programs ridiculous & archaic.

Do you see your work on NewHive as an extension of your writing, or as a wholly different process or medium altogether?

around the same time i was introduced to newhive i was hearing increasingly more abt the philosophical concept of the "holon" & was introduced to thinkers like terence mckenna who was convinced the universe is "fractal". since then ive begun viewing all of my work as extensions of everything i do. i think newhive is a catalyzing agent for ppl w internet access to learn to draw less distinctions between different media. part of what ideas like hip hop, 'alt lit', & net art have cultivated the past decade is that everyone is a curator of their own personal space. inventing & discerning between processes / media is something systemically oppressive systems do to control markets & the process is no longer necessary for those slightly more self-aware of these forces. newhive enables me to view my work as art, literature, & performance simultaneously, which is something i relish.

How much is the community an important part of NewHive?

i think on any platform or in any space where ideas are shared the community aspect is essential. bc newhive is currently primarily a place for personal expression i feel like feedback & validation from other members of the community is valuable but not entirely necessary. like any other social platform whether it be tumblr, facebook, twitter, et al, 'likes' & shares are a fun way to acknowledge affecting content & initiate dialogue on other social media more prone to discourse. many of my irl & facebook friends also have newhive accts & seeing what theyve been making has become part of my daily routine. im always excited by what ppl like catch business, penny goring, ana carrete & blare are doing. i expect that newhive plans to expand the sharing / commenting capabilities of the platform in the near future, but as an extension of already extant social media newhive is, in my view, the ideal place to explore ideas & sharing in ways the minimally customizable popular social websites cannot

Do you think you'd be able to make the stuff you're making on NewHive on any other programme or website?

sure, but not until id have already heard of / seen work on newhive. to.be is a similar platform ive been familiar w for abt the same amnt of time, but that platforms users near-ubiquitous focus on net art, collage & monetization seem almost classist / alienating to me. newhive seems more versatile & doesnt seem to 'push' any element of the interface more than another, its equal parts blogging, collage / drawing software, dynamic music-sharing space, & programming playground. most popular websites make what ppl now do on newhive seem impractical, dysfunctional, & incomprehensible, but bc of its similarities to old myspace, ytmnd, & other web 1.0 media, ive grown to feel this lvl of freedom seems to be what most literate internet users crave. facebook & tumblr continually disallow personalization as their templates evolve to present themselves as more accessible to growing audiences. i think a space where 'anything goes' is a long-awaited reprise to what made me excited abt the internet in the late 90s. newhive is currently—& i hope will continue to be—a space where ppl have to define for themselves what 'expression' means, which seems 'fresh' & almost uncanny amidst the growing predictability of mass-market platforms. also, bc of newhives drag-&-drop user interface i think it cld 'revolutionize' how ppl think of the idea of 'web design', which is a reputation no other website i can think of seems vaguely interested in cultivating 

Molly Soda, artist

Molly Soda, Up in the Clouds.

 

In what ways do you find NewHive a useful tool for your art?

NewHive pushes my work further... i've always liked making websites that exist as pieces and are perhaps less functional than say, a portfolio website... the interface makes it easier for me to seamlessly and quickly produce that sort of content, which makes me want to create more pieces in that style.

Do you think it can push you towards making new types of art, like hybrid things that wouldn't have been possible otherwise?

 totally, it's all about access to tools that once seemed too complicated or daunting. you don't have to be a coding wizard to understand how to make interesting content.

Do you find NewHive more useful as a technology, or as a way of connecting you with new people, and your art with a new audience? Or is it more of an existing audience that is able to see a more expanded art practice?

it's a bit of everything. newhive has sort of helped me create larger and more interesting bodies of work (on nearly a weekly basis) for my audience to see, which is pretty cool.

Do you use the site to avoid coding, or to have greater accessibility to coding/different types of code?

at first i was avoiding coding, i get frustrated really easily, but i've actually been learning how to code by testing things on newhive and it sort of has helped me learn how to do things i once thought were too complicated. i still want to throw my computer against a wall all of the time though ;)

Do you find NewHive nostalgic or progressive?

a little bit of both. it's like... future angelfire/geocities? 

Penny Goring, artist

http://newhive.com/penny/terribl

What attracts you to making stuff on NewHive?

i can make stuff i can't do anywhere else unless i write code.

Text seems an important part of your NewHive compositions, and is an aspect of them i really love. Is this something that you feel has been accentuated by NewHive, or is this an interest in your digital image making more generally?

oh cool, thanks. yea, i been using words n language across all mediums since... forever. (in sketch books, collage, paintings, etc. and more recently in image macros and gifs, now on NewHive too, i stick words everywhere - words as objects, i'm arranging them.)

the first thing i made on NewHive was 'EVERYWHERE CLOUD', a collection of 35 click-thru pages based around 1 poem. 

I'm really into some of the text and image hybrids I've seen on NewHive, and was wondering if you saw this as an important part of the site also.

image/text mix = image macros, has been going on in alt lit for ages = a bunch of poets putting words on pics = poems, and now, on NewHive, they can be ultramacros.

Do you think of NewHive more like a community or like a tool?

NewHive is a tool. the community can also be used as a tool: useful for audience/validation, flow of ideas, taking the pulse.

How important is the remixing aspect of NewHive to you, in making it unique as a website or appealing as a user experience?

i use the remix feature to pinch other people's code and make my own stuff with it, i don't wanna get bogged down with the details of coding, i just wanna use it in a happenstance way, remixin feels naughty, it's fast, and it's casual.

Hypertext and Destiny: This Twine Could be Your Life

Screen shot from Closky's Do you want love or lust?

Your lover wants to move in, and you have a choice: you can say, "ok, I'll try it for a weekend and then we'll see" or you can "threaten to break up right now."

Then, your boss gives you a compliment. You can either: "say ironically, 'soon you won't be able to afford me,'" or "mentally calculate how much more you will ask him for."

You choose, you choose again, then you choose again. Each time, you are presented with another choice, an either/or. It's impossible to predict the outcomes that either decision might yield, but you choose carefully, expecting that each choice will shape your future path.

This is the sprawling question set of Claude Closky's 1997 Do you want love or lust?, an early web-based hypertext work that draws the user/viewer/player into what seems like a CYOA (choose your own adventure narrative). By making a choice—clicking love or lust—you enter a fictional, and emotional, space where you are the protagonist of this story.

But Closky turns this against you. The questions don't seem to end; each choice you make seems to bear no weight on the next question. This is futile. The questions change, the color of the text on the screen, the color of the screen, but not the context, and not you. You are a protagonist with no agency, no authorship over this unfolding narrative.

Do you want love or lust? could be read as a wry sendup of the promises of hypertext literature, a cultural form of note among early web practitioners in which users used hyperlinks to navigate from one piece of text (other media were also incorporated) to another. Specifically, proponents of hypertext literature often argue that it demands an active reader who shapes their own narrative destiny, if only within a predetermined set of potential outcomes.

In Closky's work, though, the active reader is revealed to be a Charlie Chaplin in the factory, operating a complex apparatus to no discernible effect. Clicking on his hyperlinks will move you forward, but only inside a closed, random system; it seems to emphasize the arbitrariness of decision-making in hypertext literature. Is all interactive fiction equally arbitrary? Or does it, at times, allow users to make meaningful decisions, to experience a real sense of agency?

Ten years later after Closky's work, in 2007, developer and interactive fiction writer Chris Klimas—inspired by the history and potentiality of the click and a fascination for interactive fiction, gaming, and open internet projects—began coding a hypertext development environment called Twine. Twine was released for Mac and Windows users in 2009, with projects easily sharable and usable via HTML. The beauty of Twine was, and is, its ease of use — little stands between you and your ability to express via hypertext.  According to Twine's website, "You don't need to write any code to create a simple story with Twine, but you can extend your stories with variables, conditional logic, images, CSS, and JavaScript when you're ready."

Twines are intimate, deceptively simple game-like online experiences composed of clickable text crafted into modular, recombinant narratives. It stands on the history of hypertext experiences as imagined by Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson, and brought fully to form on CD-ROM by Shelley Jackson and online by Mark Amerika, but evolves from these works in that it takes advantage of the capabilities of modern browsers and the ideas of a large base of artists and authors. 

Despite its simplicity and flexibility, Twine remained a fringe platform with relatively few users for the first few years of its existence. The platform was used primarily by writers as a means to outline stories and uncover potential narrative threads. Though it differed from other interactive fiction software, its identity and utility to writers and artists remained untapped. In 2010, rumors even circulated that perhaps the platform was dead.

Then, in 2012, a shift in Twine's popularity occurred beginning when Anna Anthropy sang its praises in her book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters as a means to write text-based games without a need to code. In a recent article "Untangling Twine: A Platform Study," Jane Friedhoff describes how, "Within a year, there was a flurry of activity including a formal tutorial by Anthropy in September, a Twine tutorial at a game jam in September, Twine-specific jams in September and October, and manifesto/tutorial by Porpentine in November." Friedhoff cites this as the moment when Twine went from a cultural backwater to being a significant platform for the "marginalized voices" including the LGBTQ communities, racial or religious minorities, and women.

Friedhoff posits that the relatively spare aesthetic and easy programming allowed it to be journalistic and expository, and that Anthropy's specific promotion and use set the tone for the content of a majority of Twine games.  The games' ease of use, creation, sharing, and participation resonated with some marginalized groups whose efforts to either raise awareness of (and perhaps change) their status as marginalized, or to gain strength in numbers, could benefit from the platform.  

Moreover, the sense of first person identification that Closky détourned in Do you want love or lust? can be a powerful tool for such groups. Not unlike a LARP, hypertext fictions allow participants to engage experimentally in alternative realities or subjectivities or behaviors. Hypertext users may experience new kinds of freedoms and new kinds of consequences.

Anthropy's queers in love at the end of the world (2013) (discussed here) or The Hunt for the Gay Planet are two very different takes on intimate experiences: one models what you might do with a lover in the ten seconds before the world ends, and the other sets you on a herculean search for a vast (planet-sized) queer community. In one game, death is imminent, a fixed time limit removes inhibitions about performing specific gender roles and lends the work an emotional and polymorphously libidinal charge. In the other, frustrations mount as each turn you take yields no lesbians, no one gay and nothing queer; the sense of isolation experienced by many on the queer spectrum is made achingly manifest.

As the experience of clicking a link is so commonplace, Twine games immediately evoke our day-to-day vulnerabilities and the innate risk of clicking, of being asked to make a decision without a full understanding of what the consequences might be. The subtle simulation of danger and uncertainty in the games parallels the daily risk of individuals who belong to groups more likely to experience mistreatment in society.  

To dramatize this, many Twine games serve (like Closky's) to highlight the arbitrariness of the user's decisions, their lack of agency. In Tsukaretablues's Twine We Were Made For Loneliness, you are often given three options at the end of a segment that appear to link to a next part of the gamified story. As you move the cursor over the text it goes from red to black, becoming crossed out and then, unclickable. You realize there is only one option.

Zoe Quinn's Twine-built game Depression Quest (2013), which was made available for free in the wake of Robin Williams' death, uses this crossed out text visual motif to emulate the self-restriction of living with depression; you, the player, the sufferer of depression, think, and know, that when you have trouble sleeping you could "Force yourself to sleep," or "Just close your eyes and let it happen" but the reality is, as evidenced by the only bold blue text on the page, that your only option is to "Go to your computer. Sleep is clearly not happening no matter how long you lay here."The way you may want the story to go is in red, crossed-out text. As a reader and player, you fight to make the best possible choice and hope it gets you through to the next screen.

Zoe Quinn, Depression Quest (2013)

Twine text-based games emulate our limited agency within our daily experiences with work, lovers, friends, art, life, and as such have proven a valuable cultural form for people who, in their daily lives, must work within a limited set of choices. The text, clicks, and roundabout narratives within a Twine game illustrate the anticipation and uncertainty we feel navigating the internet, or life.  You have the choice of what text to click, but no control over what comes from that click. The hypertext of Twine enriches an otherwise ordinary narrative with the innate confusion, messiness, "reality" of the player. They are what draw us in to the narrative, but also a reminder of the narrative's bounds. Each click through a Twine game reiterates what it really means to win: accepting the limited choices at hand and moving forward, trepidations aside.

The mission to create a zine-like culture around gaming articulated by Anthropy, allowing games to be personal and lo-fi, continues to build today, two years after Anthropy's initial proclamation. From February to April of this year, Richard Goodness curated "Fear of Twine," an online exhibition of sixteen Twine games. The goal was not to demonstrate the platform's ease of use, or to promote use within the LGBTQ community, but to show how diverse it could be as a gaming tool. Though Twines are primarily text-based, and often narrative, as you pick and choose your way through one, you feel compelled toward the reward of a successful narrative, the ending you want, hence they are gamified stories. Goodness senses a continuing rise in the indie gaming scene, helped by Twine. "Twine," he says, "seems to have arrived at a point where people wanted more things from videogames, it is accessible enough for lots of people to make games, but complicated enough that people can make interesting work." Just as the photocopied zines made your voice feel heard or the recorded-in-a-garage sound made Beat Happening sound like all your unrequited crushes, the fast and dirty creation and aesthetic of Twine games makes them a perfect outlet for our reverberating, repressed emotions, and for modeling possible freedoms and real world oppression.

Screen cap from Coleoptera-Kinbote's Twine Duck Ted Bundy, part of Goodness's 2014 "Fear of Twine" exhibition.