Overdue Thoughts on AFK Convo About DDDDOOMed

The discussion between what is seen, what is presented, and the delivery method of images online seems to be the fundamental crux of the conversation about the image archive and image aggregator. But maybe this delineation between aggregation and archive is worth more investigation. The archive is an institution of care and acts as a custodian of content. In other words, the archive is not just a presentation machine, or a navigable catalog. IAs do not have the same sense of maintenance, the same need for “preservation,” maybe because this ideology of care is unbearably novel in online environments. But instead that “lack of consideration” is more a result of – as I’ve only briefly mentioned above – a flaw within the delivery method.

The way that I usually browse IAs like ffffound and tumblr is usually through following links, or through traversing the “recommended” content that is linked within a single image’s page (I actually do this more often on ffffound than tumblr). When I open these filtering mechanisms (a browser within a browser), I often don’t make it to the end of the first page without opening two or more extra tabs. These in turn usually open a couple more tabs each, until either I’ve found something that I’ve wanted to share with others or until I get preoccupied with something else online (read: boredom). The act of sharing is an act of removing and/or relocating the content of an IA into a social network, and this gesture itself can be interpreted as something akin to the considered behavior of an archive (see Lev Manovich on sharing). This might be an overly-generous interpretation however, nevertheless I’m wondering if minor gestures like this might be a way of combatting or subverting the dangers that IAs pose to image circulation/distribution.

Perhaps a layer of minor obfuscation and delayed presentation can break up the immediacy and lack of consideration that IAs are encumbered with. For instance, butdoesitfloat – one of the best IA blogs that I know of – has a brief loading delay that prevents visitors from navigating the page too quickly. This forced hesitation enhances the experience of the images loading within the page and also creates a delicate synergy between images presented. In other words, this very slight barrier arranges the images into a curated consideration that otherwise is absent in the typical IA. Images in this way operate as an interstitial to the standard rapid browsing practices found in screen culture.

Although this slight hesitation is an effective route design wise for butdoesitfloat, it doesn’t always translate into other environments and filtering systems. For instance, when my tumblr dashboard doesn’t load faster than I can scroll I get annoyed and tend to refresh the page in order for it to keep up. My frustration comes from a place of unexpected poor (or inconsistent) programming, as opposed to a deliberate slowing of content delivery. The treatment of content through a considered timely delivery is something that could be investigated more fully by bloggers, image collectors/distributors, and artists alike.

nod to tom for a great convo about this subject.


  1. tom moody, March 30, 2011:

    Hi, Nicholas,
    The web is already an enormous, dynamic archive, and these “aggregator” sites attempt to bite off manageable chunks of it. Each has its own distinctive architecture and pathologies. (“Pathologies” in the disease sense, I’m not coining a new, terrible word here.)

    Olia Lialina’s net art works of the late ’90s were products of the slow-loading web of the time (she explained in a lecture here in NY). You never knew where, when, or whether the next image in a series was going to pop up because of the vagaries of equipment and connection speed. You are talking now about the opposite situation–too much data loading too quickly to process, and how to slow it down.

    butdoesitfloat’s model is somewhat easier on the eyes than the cold instant barrage of images but it seems artificial to me after a bit of surfing–too self-conscious in its design. The “aggregator” is adding information in the form of these fade transitions and it is basically unnecessary noise. Dump.fm is an interesting experiment in how much image-data we can process at a high rate of speed with no attempt to slow down or mediate it. One handles as much as one can handle in the chat room, and then takes a break to the relative calm of the logs.
    Ultimately users have to set limits for themselves for how much imagery they surf–there’s almost no good way a designer can do it for you. But let’s enjoy the madness while we can. If the Telcos succeed in breaking up the Web, we may be back to Lialina’s aesthetic soon enough.

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