The Decade in Art: More Interactive than Ever

12/28/2009 4:00 AM |

I could name any one of twenty recent artistic developments as this decade's "most important" and make a convincing argument for it. This isn't any special skill on my part. The art world is large enough that quite a few significant changes have occurred over the last ten years; even if it weren't, this would be the hardest decade to sum up by reference to one art movement. Pluralism aside, so far, the creative high points of the millennium belong to television serials and internet communities.

But while fine art's contributions this decade may not come in the most traditional forms, the critical and ubiquitous practice of web curating, at least by name, derives from the long tradition of art curation. Of course, the selecting, sharing and caring of material on the web would likely occur whether or not it was attributed art's professional authority, but the pivotal role arts intuitions played in the development of such practices over the last year has been greatly under-recognized.

Eyebeam's reblog represents one such example. Developed and named by Jonah Peretti, Michael Frumin, Michael Migurski, Alex Galloway and Boris Anthony, the Movable Type hack dubbed "reblog", was designed in early 2004, as a means of making web surfing, re-posting and crediting material easier. Today, we see permutations of the curating technology first built at the Atelier, all over the web. The most popular software operating off the same principles—Tumblr blogs and Facebook feeds—allows users to easily re-post material and create their own custom feed readers, just like the Eyebeam reblog.

It bears noting that while Tumblr and Facebook were established with commercial intent, the impetus for non-profit's reblog was just as practical. The arts and technology organization didn't have the resources to create new content for their site, and they needed a way to get people there. It also provided a more manageable means of curating an increasing amount of material available on the web. "I am just interested in how ideas spread, how the media works, and how the web is changing the answers to those questions." former Director of Research and Development at Eyebeam and co-founder of BuzzFeed Jonah Peretti wrote via email earlier this year. "I have never tried to play the art game or make a living from doing art, so the label never fit." This sentiment did not however, stop the entrepreneur from exhibiting related work at the New Museum in 2005.

Amongst Peretti's first reblogged posts in 2004, I like to think that the BBC article about how Janet Jackson's breast had become the most searched-for image in internet history, pointed towards what he would eventually create with BuzzFeed. The website uses custom technology and editorial teams to create a comprehensive database of the most viral web memes. According to Quantcast, Buzzfeed is the 568th most trafficked website in the world.

The website has almost nothing to do with art, and because Peretti doesn't claim to be an artist, it's probably easy to lose sight of the fact that it was the work done at arts organization that would lead to Peretti's success. But if there ever there were a testimonial for the foresight of art institutions, this would be it.

(photo credit: Klingatron via duncan/Flickr)

6 Comment

  • Thanks for the mention! We struggled a lot with how to handle attribution in Reblog, and I think there’s an interesting contrast between how we implemented it and how it’s currently manifested in Tumblr or Twitter’s retweet feature. In RB, the attribution always goes back one step in the chain to show where you saw something. In the more unified services it’s possible to go back to the beginning, so the chain of attribution is invisible and the original creator is favored.

  • Whilst reblog is an amazingly prescient tool, I’d have to fundamentally disagree with the concept that “web curation” was art’s great gift to culture this decade. Not only did the link-sharing site delicious start in 2003, but the online curated link collection web zen started even earlier (2002?). My observation is that as the internet gained cultural ground, the idea of curators-as-gatekeepers collapsed when all subculture was indexed and googleable.

  • The reblog link has a typo and brings you back to the main page.

  • Eyebeam can perhaps take credit for the term “Reblog”, yet the concept of “reblogging” predates 2004. As far as I can remember “linking” and giving credit to the author or source material started with the birth of the blog and blogger, yet it was done so manually (with code) and probably in greater detail. Also, several developers did have “helper” software available pre-2004 that made it “easier” to reblog items, I’m just not sure Eyebeam pioneered the concept of “reblogging”. Also, it must be noted that “reblog” was hardly easy to install, versions were constantly in beta and one needed a server with PHP, MySQL, and Perl CGI scripts, and even then a good deal of tinkering needed to take place under the hood. If Eyebeam was so interested in the ease and democratization of content why did they focus on working with Movable Type (which is NOT free) and why wasn’t something developed for Pre-Google owned Blogger, or Blogspot, something easier to install and use that didn’t need to be self-hosted?

  • Jocko, I don’t think ease and democratization are necessarily the same thing. Often, they’re quite the opposite.

    Personally, I was interested in two things: I wanted to build a kickass web-based feed reader and republisher for my own personal use (I continue to use it every day even now), and I was interested in exploring the specific behavior patterns around publishing flows, citation, and attribution. Making all that stuff a push-button action for the fortnightly Eyebeam Reblogger was fun.

    We talked a lot about making it a hosted thing for everyone, but I just don’t think the will to follow through on it was ever really there. It was mostly Frumin and I building it, and I think we viewed it as a combination of thing-for-Eyebeam and thing-to-make-a-point. I’m happy that Tumblr appropriated the terminology, they’ve done something a lot more complete with the concept than we chose to because they’ve been willing to support a centralized, hosted service. I like that the “re(verb)” terminology is present in Twitter as well, because it takes the abstract idea of copying as interpretation, and makes it something that millions of normal people do every day. I would hope that exposure to this possibility through whatever service a person chooses for their communication and publishing will help make real the derivation and distribution arguments from folks like (CC) and Lawrence Lessig. It’s important for people to have first-hand experience with such things, even if it’s not with the specific PHP application called Reblog.

  • Hey! Wow, it’s not often that you get an answer back when a comment is left on a site, thank you for the clarification and for your work. It’s easy to forget that it was just two people working on what really turned out to have an immense impact. Funny that your use the term re(verb), I often think of it as an echo.