Matthew Fuller on Sat, 2 May 1998 19:33:55 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> a means of mutation 2/2

A file is dropped into the unstuffer.  The projector is opened.  The hard
drive grinds.  The screen goes black.  The blacked out screen is a reverse
nihilist moment.  Suddenly everything is there.
        A brief description of the functions of the Web Stalker is
necessary as a form of punctuation in this context, but it can of course
only really be fully sensed by actual use10.  Starting from an empty plane
of colour, (black is just the default mode - others are chosen using a
pop-up menu) the user begins by marqueeing a rectangle.  Using a contextual
menu, a function is applied to the box.  The box, a generic object, is
specialised into one of the following functions.  For each function put
into play, one or more box is created and specialised
        Crawler:  The Crawler is the part of the Web Stalker that actually
links to the World Wide Web. It is used to start up, and to show the
current status of the session.  It appears as a window containing a bar
split into three.  A dot moving across the bar shows what stage the Crawler
is at. The first section of the bar shows the progress of the Net
connection. Once connection is made and a URL is found, the dot jumps to
the next section of the bar. The second section displays the progress of
the Web Stalker as it reads through the found HTML document looking for
links to other URLs. The third section of the bar monitors the Web Stalker
as it logs all the links that it has found so far.  Thus, instead of the
user being informed that connection to the net is vaguely 'there' by
movement on the geographic TV-style icon in the top right hand corner the
user has access to specific information about processes and speeds.
        Map: Displays references to individual HTML documents as circles
and the links from one to another as lines. The URL of each document can be
read by clicking on the circle it is represented by.  Once a Web session
has been started at the first URL opened by the Crawler, Map moves through
all the links from that site, then through the links from those sites, and
so on.  The mapping is dynamic - 'Map' is a verb rather than a noun.
        Dismantle:  The Dismantle window is used to work on specific URLs
within HTML documents. URLs at this level will be specific resources such
as images, email addresses, sound files, downloadable documents, etc.
Clicking and dragging a circle into the Dismantle window will display all
URLs referenced within the HTML document you have chosen, again in the form
of circles and lines.
        Stash:  The Stash provides a document format that can be used to
make records of web use. Saved as an HTML file it can also be read by
'Browsers' and circulated as a separate document.  Sites or files are
included by dragging and dropping URL circles into a Stash.
        HTML Stream:  Shows all of the HTML as it is read by the Web
Stalker in a separate window.  Because as each link is followed by the
crawler the HTML appears precisely as a stream, the feed from separate
sites is effectively mixed.
        Extract:  Dragging a URL circle into an extract window strips all
the text from a URL.  It can be read on screen in this way or saved as a
text file.

Any statement of function, whilst satisfactorily acting as a notice of
concrete reality which functions to attract and displace energies and
dynamics of many sorts, is never of course sufficient.  If they work, such
constructions are always spilling over and mobilising more.
        The Web Stalker performs an inextricably technical, aesthetic and
ethical 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.
        This is not to say much.  It is immediately obvious that the
Stalker is incapable of using images and some of the more complex functions
available on the web.  These include for instance: gifs, forms, Java, VRML,
frames, etc.  Some of these are deliberately ignored as a way of trashing
the dependence on the page and producing a device that is more suited to
the propensities of the network.  Some are left out simply because of the
conditions of the production of the software - we had to decide what was
most important for us to achieve with available resources and time.  This
is not to say that if methods of accessing this data were to be
incorporated into the Stalker that they would have been done so 'on their
own terms'.  It is likely that at the very least they would have been
dismantled, dissected, opened up for use in some way.
        Another 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.

Whilst the Web Stalker's mode of production was independent, its modes of
circulation were aimed to be as heterogeneous as possible.  Previous issues
of I/O/D  were aimed at relatively small though diffuse underground
networks of distribution.  They got around extremely well by word of mouth
and not much more.
        This time, because we thought the project was timely and of
potential interest to a wider range of people we adopted a strategy of
attempting to assimilate to or impose the project on a variety of discourse
networks and movements.  These included discourses with established media
structures and institutions but also more tentative, non-codified cultures
of use that emerge around softwares.

Previous to the Web Stalker, work by artists on the web was channelled into
providing content for web sites.  These sites are bound by the conventions
enforced by browser-type software.  They therefore remain the most
determining aesthetic of this work.  The majority of web-based art, if it
deals with its media context at all can be understood by four brief
        incoherence (user abuse, ironic dysfunctionality, randomness to
mask pointlessness)
        archaeology (media archaeology, emulators of old machines and
software, and structuralist materialist approach)
        retro-tooling (integrity to old materials in 'new' media, integrity
as kitsch derived from punk/jazz/hip hop, old-style computer graphics, and
'filmic references' - the Futile Style Of London11)
        deconstruction (conservative approach to analysing-in-practice the
development of multimedia and networks, consistently re-articulating
contradiction rather than using it as a launching pad for new techniques of

Within the discourse networks of art, including critical technique; license
to irresponsibility; compositions-in-progress of taste stratification and
breaks; institutions; finance; individual survival strategies; media;
social networks; legitimation devices; at least potential openness to new
forms; and avowed attentiveness to manifestations of beauty, there were
dynamics that were useful to mobilise in order to open up possibilities of
circulation and effect for the Web Stalker.  However, at the same time as
the project was situated within contemporary art, it is also widely
operative outside of it.  Most obviously it is at the very least, a piece
of software.  How can this multiple position be understood by an art-world
that is still effectively in thrall to the notion of the autonomy of the
        Anti-art is always captured by its purposeful self-placement within
a subordinate position to that which it simply opposes.  Alternately, the
deliberate production of non-art is always an option but not necessary in
this context, (let those crumbs fall off the table, they look starved).
Instead, this project produces a relationship to art that at times works on
a basis of infiltration or alliance, and at others simply refuses to be
excluded by it and thus threatens to reconfigure entirely what it is part
of.  The Web Stalker is art. Another possibility therefore emerges.
Alongside the categories art, anti-art and non-art, something else spills
over: not-just-art.
        Of course, once this ploy is opened and proliferates it becomes
apparent that it quickly colonises all of what sees itself as art and
nothing but simply by virtue of acknowledging its integration into other
systems - of valorisation, decoration, sociality etc.  By the same token it
also opens up what is categorised as non-art to the descriptive, critical,
de-responsibilising and other potentially less fruitful qualities and
operations of art.  Tormented by wanna-be-loved negativism, anti-art as a
category subsumed within art just about retains its desk at the Ministry of

Just as the Stalker is not-just-art, it can only come into occurrence by
being not just itself.  It has to be used.  Assimilation into possible
circuits of distribution and effect in this case means something
approaching a media strategy.
        "For modernist intellectuals, cultural capital or distinction in
Bourdieau's sense varies inversely with one's contact with the media"12
Operating at another level to the Web Stalker's engagement within art were
two other forms of media which were integral to the project:  stickers
(bearing a slogan and the I/O/D URL) and Freeware.  Both are good
contenders for being the lowest, most despised grade of media.  That the
Web Stalker is Freeware has been essential in developing its engagement
with various cultures of computing.
        The Stalker is currently being downloaded at a rate of about a
thousand copies per week.  Responses have ranged from intensely detailed
mathematical denunciations of the Map and a total affront that anyone
should try anything different; to evil glee, and a superb and generous
understanding of the project's techniques and ramifications.
        Whilst for many, the internet simply is what is visible with a
browser, at the same time it is apparent that there is a widespread desire
for new non-formulaic software.  One of the questions that the Stalker
poses is how program design is taken forward.  Within the limitations of
the programming language and those of time, the project achieved what it
set out to do.  As a model of software development outside of the
super-invested proprietary one this speculative and interventional mode of
production stands alongside two other notable radical models: that of Free
Software13 and that derived from the science shops, (wherein software is
developed by designers and programmers in collaboration with clients for
specifically social uses).  Unlike these others it is not so likely to find
itself becoming a model that is widely adoptable and sustainable.
        In a sense then, the web stalker works as a kind of 'tactical
software'14 but it is also deeply implicated within another kind of
tacticity - the developing street knowledge of the nets.  This is a sense
of the flows, consistencies and dynamics of the nets that is most closely
associated with hackers, but that is perhaps immanent in different ways in
every user.
        Bringing out and developing this culture however demands attention.
In some respects this induction of idiosyncratic knowledges of minute
effects ensures only that whilst the Browser Wars will never be won, they
are never over.  So long as there's the software out there working its
temporal distortion effects on 'progress'=8A  So long as there's always some
nutter out there in the jungle tooled up with some VT100 web viewer, copies
of Mosaic, Macweb, whatever..
        At the same time we need to nurture our sources of this ars
metropolitani of the nets.  During recent times and most strongly because
of the wider effects of specific acts of repression, hacking itself has
often become less able to get things going because it has a) been driven
more underground, b) been offered more jobs, and c) been less imaginatively
willing or able to ally itself with other social currents.

Software forges modalities of experience - sensoriums through which the
world is made and known.  As a product of 'immaterial labour' software is a
social, technical and aesthetic relation that is embodied - and that is at
once productive of more relations.  That the production of value has moved
so firmly into the terrain of immaterial labour, machine embodied
intelligence, style as factory, the production of subjectivity, makes the
evolution of what was previously sectioned as 'culture' so much more
valuable to play for - potentially always as sabotage - but , as a
development of the means of mutation, most compellingly as synthesis.

        Synthesis is explicitly not constitutive of a universe of
synchronisation and equivalence where everything connects to everything.
Promising nothing but reconstitutive obliteration to 'worlds' where
everything means only one thing:  virtual office, virtual pub, virtual
gallery, virtual night-club, however many more sonic gulags passing as
virtual mixing decks.  What is so repulsive about this nailed-down
faithfulness  is not so much that its darkside is about as disturbing as a
black-light lightbulb, or that it presents a social terrain which has been
bounced clean by the most voracious of doormen - the miserable
consciousnesses of its producers - but that it is continually dragging this
space of composition, network, computer, user, software, socius, program
production, back into the realm of representation, the dogged circular
churning of avatars through the palace of mundane signs, stiffs reduced if
at all possible to univocal sprites, rather than putting things into play,
rather than making something happen.
        Synthesis incorporates representation as a modality.
Representation is not replaced but subsumed by the actualisation of ideas
and the dynamism of material through which, literally 'in the realm of
possibility', it becomes contingent.  But this is not to trap synthesis
within the 'inherent' qualities of materials.  'Truth to materials'
functions at once as both a form of transcendence through which by the
purest of imputations interpretative schema can pluck out essences and as a
form of repressively arch earnestness.  This is a process of overflowing
all ideal categories.

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, or wherever.
(Unless it's been listed on the ignore.txt file customisable and 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.  It is a figuration that is immutably  live.  A processual
opening up of the web that whilst it deals at every link with a determinate
arrangement has no cut-off point other than infinity.  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.

        From there, in unison with whichever of the other functions are
applied, a predatory approach to data is developed.  Sites are dismantled,
stored, scanned to build up other cultures of use of the nets.  That the
software is cranky, that things become alien, that it is not the result of
years of flow-charted teams, that it forces (horrific act) PC users to use
alt, ctrl, delete to quit the program is not in question.
        All the while, synthesis keeps running, keeps mixing.  Producing
sensoriums, modes of operation, worldviews that are downloadable (that is
both traceable and open), mixable, measurable, assimilable  (but not
without risk of contamination), discardable, perhaps even immersive.  This
is a poetics of potential that is stringent - not just providing another
vector for perpetually reactive opportunism - yet revelling in the
possibility always also operating within the most intensified sounds: a
hardcore methodology.
        Aggregates are formed from the realm induced by the coherence of
every possibility.  Syntactics tweaks, examines and customs them according
to context.  This context is not pre-formatted.  It is up for grabs, for
remaking.  Synthesis determines a context within which it is constitutive
and comes into composition within ranges of forces.  Everything - every
bit, every on or off fact - is understood in terms of its radical
coefficiency, against the range of mutation from which it emerged and
amongst the potential syntheses with which it remains fecund.  It is the
production of sensoria that are productive not just of 'worlds' but of the
1  Only an ostensible competitor because the browsers produced by Netscape
and Microsoft are so nearly identical that they form, not an economic, but
a technical and aesthetic monopoly.  It will be interesting to see whether
the release of the source code for Netscape Navigator will also produce a
release from the conventions of the browser.
2 Again because of its near monopoly over PC Operating Systems Microsoft
was able to set the terms - against previously made agreements - on which
Java would be developed.  It is widely agreed that they - and to some
extent, Sun - significantly compromised the actual and potential power of
the language.
3  Resources on the ECHELON system are available at:
4  for instance the I/O/D shout tag.  <IOD4> is a HTMLish element that is
only recognised by the Web Stalker. Usage:  <IOD4 [attributes]> (there is
no closing tag for this element).   Attributes: The Web Stalker will read
your HTML document and display your 'SHOUT' message in a field in the top
left of the Web Stalker window.  This message can't be read by Web
'Browsers', so make the most of it. <IOD4 SHOUT=3D"any text you want
displayed to Web Stalker users" >
5 see for instance the skirmishes around name ownership produced in the hijacking of corporate names by Heath Bunting and Rachel Baker at, ( or at the other extreme, the
attempts at the technical introduction of a precise indexicality when a
brand name is typed into a browser by Centraal (
6  Maurizio Lazzarato, Immaterial Labor, in Michael Hardt and Paul Virno,
Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, Minnesota University Press,
Minneapolis, 1996, p.142
7  Lazzarato, p.142
8  The device's advantage is in its ease of use -compared for instance to
the tiresome delete command in DOS - rather than any 'natural' affiliation
with this metaphor.
9  Simon Pope, Colin Green, Matthew Fuller
10  The I/O/D homepage from which all the group's output, including PC and
Macintosh versions of the Web Stalker are available from is provided by
11  See FSOL section on I/O/D site
12  Mark Poster, The Second Media Age. Polity Press 1997, p.5
13  Free Software Foundation -
The reasons the I/O/D did not in this case follow the FSF model of free
software are relatively simple.  Whilst as a structure it undoubtedly works
and we are supportive of it, it is an economy that demands a developing
critical mass to work.  This is happening for programmers working with
larger computers.  With the increasing use of Linux (see Linus Torvald's
homepage: <>), it is also
happening for Personal Computers which is the scale we are working on.
However, there is no comparable economy working for the exchange of Lingo
code.  This is of course because Director is designed to produce
hermetically sealed routines called 'projectors'.  If the code for the
Stalker was to have been distributed under Copyleft, there would have been
no way of enforcing that its use continue to remain open as this is such an
easy method of invisble incorporation.
14  see 'The ABC of Tactical Media', Geert Lovink and David Garcia.
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