travelers in a labyrinth revealed by their wish to find it
Situationists, implementing the concept of dérive/drifting, walk around "the city" guided by voices so to speak, creating new idiosyncratic paths through the city, a new subversive/subjective narrative in negation of the imposed modernist grid: psychogeography.
recent implementations include using a map of one city to navigation another, using a set of fluxus instructions (turn left, go until you see a woman wearing blue, follow her three blocks, turn right, etc.), and the brilliant confab of generative programming and psychogeography known as generative psychogeography, drifting per code.
1957: Debord constructs a fragmentary record of the Lettrist International in his Mémoires, consisting of cut-up text and images collaged as a form subjective detritus archeology.
Dérive applied to the web is simply called surfing. The web surfer as flaneur. This concept was overworn as early as 1998. Generative psychogeography is easy enough to apply the web. It's called a linkbot (or an "intelligent agent" for those more anthropomorphically inclined). Search engines send them out in droves to harvest pages for their databases.
The problem is, merely automated psychocyberography is missing the point of psychogeography. The point is not for a robot to re-map the city. It's not the non-euclidian path in and of itself that transforms the city; it's the fact that you as a subjective person are walking the path, experiencing the ride along the way. Your subjective experience is the transformative factor. Even if a bot could cull images and text from its web journey and randomly assemble them into a collage similar to Debord's Mémoires, they would just be the memoirs of the bot. Feel free to steal this tangential concept and implement it. Entitle the piece Memoirs of a Bot.
As incidentally transformative as reading Debord's Mémoires may be, it can never be as transformative as experiencing the LI and collaging Mémoires was to Debord himself.
Create a set of instructions for surfing the web (the web being analogous to the modern city). Instead of saying "go down three lights and turn left," the instructions might read "tab forward three links and click." Instead of saying "follow a woman in a blue," the instructions might read "click on the next linked image of a woman." You may create these instructions with generative software, or simply write them out the old school analog way (cf: non-digital programming, Sol Lewitt's instruction-based drawings, John Cage's aleatoric dice music). Whatever you do, don't let the software do the actual surfing. Return the instructions to your human user / patron / collaborator / pschocyberographer / margin walker and let her do the actual surfing per your instructions.
Some suggested approaches:
Begin the whole journey at google. Get the user to search for a phrase of her choosing. Once the results of the search are returned, she can begin surfing down her path per your instructions.
Begin the whole journey in a blank browser window. Get the user to choose a single word and type in her word plus ".com" in the browser's URL field. derive.com, modern.com, booger.com, etc. Once the site comes up, she can begin surfing down her path per your instructions.
Include instructions that occur off the web involving word associations in the mind of the user. Incorporate search engines, dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, and wikipedia.org -- key word search sites which allowing the user to map these semantic connections to online content. Semantic associations between alchemy, chemistry, allergy, disease, and leisure, for example, will yield much more interesting results than instructions that say, "click on link 3. next, click on link 2." Thus the surfing process becomes less a deconstruction of the web as an online version of Madison Avenue, and more a deconstruction of the web as a library of human knowledge.
Have contingent instructions for dead-ends and unorthodox site architecture. The corporate web is much less contiguous and uniform than the modern city.
Write instructions that allow the user to make her own subjective choices. "Click on the link that seems most dangerous." "Click on the link that most reminds you of your father."
Write instructions that occasionally force the reader to peruse the text of the page, potentially banal as it may be. "Count the number of indefinite prepositions on the page. If the number is odd, click on the page's last link. If the number is even, click on the page's first link."
Don't start the journey at a net art site like superbad.com. That would be like going on a cybergeographic walk in an amusement park funhouse. The "regular" experience is already disruptive as is. (Although you are certainly free to steal this tangential concept and implement it. Entitle the piece Funhouse Cybergeography: Mirroring Mirrors.)
After the actual surfing is done, the project may proceed in a number of ways:
The user posts her surfing history for that session (resident in her browser's "history" tab, complete with active links) to the web (cf: lab404.com/data/). This way others can follow her bread crumbs.
The user revisits her surfing history and culls text phrases and images from the journey. She collages these phrases and images in photoshop, saves them as jpegs, and posts them on the web to create her own pschocyberographic memoirs. Or she makes the text and images into a printed book, or even a DVD.
The user revisits her surfing history and culls text phrases and image URLs from the journey. She pastes these phrases and URLs into an email, and posts them to a net art mailing list to share her own pschocyberographic memoirs. (It might look something like this.)
The user revisits her surfing history and culls text phrases, images, and URLs from the journey. She then builds a non-linear web site from these fragments. In addition to the pages of the site interlinking, they may also link offsite to the "source" pages from her journey where the original images and text fragments were first discovered. (It might look something like this.)
All of the above.
The user simply has the experience and produces nothing but having had the experience.
As an interesting aside, Noah Wardrip-Fruin's Impermanence Agent is almost the exact opposite of the project I'm proposing. In Impermanence Agent, the human (as opposed to a bot) constructs a surfing path through the cybercity, and the bot (as opposed to a human) does all the non-euclidian recontextualizing.
These are instructions for you to create your own instructions so that someone can follow your instructions and create a piece of work based on their following of your instructions that someone else can experience.
William Burroughs cryptically observed, "When you cut into the present, the future leaks out." He was talking about randomly cutting-up and reassembling audio media. Applied to the modern city, Debord might have said something like, "when you cut into the grid, your own story leaks out."
Pschocyberography asks, "When you cut into the web, what leaks out?" It doesn't ask this question of a bot. A bot can do the cutting, but a bot can't know the answer. Your act of knowing creates the answer.
"travelers in a labyrinth revealed by their wish to find it"