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"hey buddy. where do you want this information?"
information )
by jason wesley upton
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"Hey buddy. Where do you want this information?"

That's what the sign on my desk says. Every day at work I come up with new and exciting ways to catalogue information. I am (and this title, while by no means official, is used in office memos, emails, and staff meetings) "The Internet Information Czar" for these United States. My rise to this auspicious title started about three years ago when I wrote a program for the Library of Congress.

As succinctly as I can put it, it was a cross-name, re-directional, self-sufficient automated hypertext editor. Well, to be completely straight, the "self-sufficient" part is a bit redundant, but I really like the sound of it. The Library of Congress is dedicated to recording all instances of American development to "sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations". What my program does is this:

As the Library of Congress stores terabyte after terabyte of information from all the web pages hosted in the United States, as it saves every image, every program, every file, my program, "The Cleaner" goes in and finds all the duplicate instances of every element...and deletes them. It deletes the duplicates. It then redirects and rewrites any hypertext code that referred to that file to reflect a new location. A new location of the latest South Park wallpaper, for example. A new location of that cracked version of Adobe Photoshop, or a new location of that picture of the "teen" who is holding the pacifier and looking out the window wistfully while being pleasured. The web is so filled with unoriginal ideas, rehashing, and appropriated images, that the monetary amount of space I saved the Library of Congress is in the millions.

Think about it, every time you see a web page that's using a piece of clip art with a dog looking surprised, there are anywhere from six to a thousand other web sites using the exact same image, all stored in different places. This is what my Information Mechanics professor used to call a "waste of space".

I also get a report detailing the changes made by The Cleaner e-mailed to me every day. In every single 24-hour period The Cleaner has to tackle over ten thousand instances of this one particular animated gif that shows a mailbox opening and closing. Every twenty-four hours it has to delete and redirect over thirty-three thousand occurrences of a specific horizontal transparent gif. Sixteen thousand "ivy" backgrounds. Three thousand jpegs of the planet Earth. Unfortunately it can only blink its eye at every vector-inspired page of fluff that has a disturbing amount of circles that you can click as links. It can only ruffle its hidden brow at every happening of a Java-run clock. It can only feel disquieted when it scans over every unnecessary guest book. I only know this because I have watched its memory usage skyrocket as it tries to make sense of these repetitious elements that can't exactly be redirected. Maybe I'll figure out a way to do this with version 2.

I tell my friends in the design field all of these anecdotes brought to me as an ASCII attachment and printed with my laser printer. They all laugh, nod their heads, make derisive comments about "amateurs", and then go home to make a giant red vector circle with a black outline gain size one hundred and forty percent before fading into a company's logo.

Sometimes I have these thoughts of adding to The Cleaner a sub-program that also deletes repetitive design. Simply due to the insane number of web pages out there, certain very basic designs will reoccur quite often. I wonder just how many pages have a specific green background (00CC66) and use Courier New as their font--10 point, having the words "enter..." as their first line?

But that would be stepping into the world of information maintenance ethics--a very touchy and hazy realm of information control. One of the precepts of Information Theory is that all information tells a story. If there are fifty-two thousand online journals written by a fourteen to seventeen year old girl who has been hurt by a boy, loves poetry, has an affinity for French names, and who has fantasies of red wine and New Orleans, then there are fifty-two thousand of these types of pages for a reason.

Have no doubt though, that for all of my complaining about the content and form of the web, I do believe--just as my supervisor (Executive Director of Society Petridge) does--that the web and web pages are the art form of the twenty-first century. Right now people surf through an intro and interface perhaps only saying to themselves, "That's neat". But this design likely took seven months of coffee, cigarettes, and expense accounts to create. When speaking of the best pages, the complexity of the interaction is planned out so tight that the user has full control over their movements. For the most part, right now the only people who appreciate these designs are other designers.

But one day someone will say aloud while shopping for a new car, "This General Motors page is art." Or, "You know, that Coca-Cola interface is genius". And when they do, the Library of Congress will open their online exhibition of E-Society. People will flock to it thinking, "how did I miss all of this? Why did I spend all of my time reading online journals and guest books?" And it will all have been made possible by The Cleaner.

Copyright © 2000 Jason Wesley Upton All Rights Reserved

my name is jason wesley upton. i live in new orleans. i have a degree. i have no job. i live with my cat janelle. one day i want to make vector circles fade into a company's logo.

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