Surfing Like it’s 1996

Tobias Leingruber’s kitchen presentation at Second City / Ars Electronica 2007 was an small highlight, that only people who know him could expect. Tobi is a student at Merz Academy in Stuttgart where I met him first and where Olia Lialina does an excellent job at pushing students beyond the conventions of the usual fashionable media courses.

In Linz he presented two projects: , a crawler that crawled the database of the popular German student community Studivz, and Tobi’s Timemachine , a Firefox Plugin, that restyles websites on the fly so they look like they were designed in the 90s. Both projects are not only extremely funny, they are also elegantly put the finger on aspects of the web. While Studivz Crawler deals with questions of privacy (and should have been presented more prominently at thise year’s Ars Electronica “Goodbye Privacy”), Timemachine focuses on the aesthetic evolution of the web. It made complete sense to present time machine in Second City, since the aesthetic of Second Life reminds often of the early days of the web. A reason for that may be that the motivation to run a shop in Second Life may be quite similar to that of the early Homepage Owners who thought that just be present in the world wide web might lead to some kind of success. Just like the early web, Second Life is not driven by professional designers. Tobi seems to love this kind of trash design and one it is great that he seems to get full support from his teachers.

Wir haben Timemachine installiert und getestet, und sind zu dem Schluss gekommen, dass wir sie nicht aufnehmen werden.
Kurz zur Begründung: Die Erweiterung passt nicht in eine Sammlung von Erweiterungen, die das Arbeiten mit Firefox erleichtern sollen. Ihre Erweiterung ist eher ein “Kunst-Produkt” ohne funktionalen Wert.

He did not get much support from the, a popular German portal for Mozilla & Co add-ons: They did not accept Timemachine, because they thought it was “artistic” and had no practical use. It is quite amusing that Tobi’s add-on gets discriminated for being art by people who are not experts in the field of art (artists, critiques, curators etc.). When experts and non-experts disagree whether something is art or not, the non-experts are mostly the ones who vote against the artistic nature of the object (or concept) in question.

In this case Timemachine is obviously seen as inferior or at least as not suitable because of it’s artistic nature. It seems like the operators feel that they have to protect users from art. It kind of reminds of the way graffiti is often treated. In a way that is of course not surprising, since it is also art in public space, on the other hand it is hard to argue that it is damaging. had apparently no problem with Knut, an add-on that connects to a blog featuring the latest news on Knut, the polar bear baby in Berliner Zoo. Maybe Tobi’s art is not cute enough. Certainly not cute is StudiVZ crawler, but it features a bot that connects lonely hearts in the StudiVZ community automatically. A feature that while exploiting the lack of privacy in communities like StudiVZ or facebook, seemed useful enough for the operators of the platform to integrate it as a new (highly questionable) feature.