As part of their 2013 Maker Party, Mozilla have developed three tools designed to hack and remix the content of the world wide web (WWW), collectively termed the Webmaker suite. Hacking Popular Culture Liaison Kat Braybrooke and her crew have assembled a team of webmaker fellows and our tech editor and media artist Stephen Fortune is among them. He'll be sharing his reflections on the Webmaker tools with the Hacked & Burned blog for the next threee weeks.
We want you to break things - Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation
You had us at “break things”, Mark. Surman's exhortation to learn about the web through tinkering, meddling, and prying black boxes open resonates with what Hacked & Burned is all about. I believe that if you push your network to breaking point, you learn a lot about digital culture as you put them back together again. The three Webmaker tools – X-Ray Goggles, Thimble, and Popcorn Maker – each promise methods for snapping and reshaping the WWW (website remixing, website building and cloud based video remixing respectively).
My expertise with programming and web development is at the level of what I'd term 'pidgin programming': I can kludge together an interactive art work or develop a Wordpress website, but the deeper mechanisms of the internet evade my comprehension. So the first tool I wanted to get my hands on was the X-Ray Goggles.
With the Goggles enabled, you can not only viewed the source code, but you can also replace images, headlines, and entire copy with whatever you please. You can then publish the altered website for sharing (click here to see a remix of the Dazed homepage). Max Capacity, another of the webmaker fellows, has already had a go at doctoring some other prominent websites (above) with his trademark irreverent humour.
I was thrilled by this feature and quickly set about using it (more on that below). And thanks to the Webmaker Tumblr, I happened across a tutorial by Tobias Leingruber, which take you through the mechanics of how Goggles remixes the web.
The Goggles channel the playful anarchy of punk hacktivists and opens up their methods so everyone can remix the web and share the results with one another
It transpires that meddling with your own browser isn't that hard, but sharing your remixes for anyone to see is what makes the Goggles an interesting prospect. The browser is where internet information is served up to our eyeballs, so seeing how readily it can be manipulated is politically quite interesting. The browser as a site for political action was a staple trope of early net-art: including Mongrel's racist search engine and I/O/D's Web Stalker. The method saw a revival through 'agit-prop browser extensions': browser plug-ins that transform your interent experience.
Tobias was one of the foremost revivalists in that field, founding Artzilla in 2007 and co-creating the Add Art plugin. Other excellent add-on provocations include Jailbreak the Patriarchy, the ingenious and subversive AdLeaks, and the irreverant Occupy the Internet from F.A.T Labs.
The Goggles channel the playful anarchy of these punk hacktivists and open up their methods so that everyone can remix the web and share the results with one another. From my perspective being able to digitally deface a website opened a way to intervene with the user's attention spans. The advent of the internet made the 'attention economy' argument all the more potent: the notion that if you've got an abundance of content, the commodity becomes that which is scarcest – human attention.
So I hope to use X-Ray Goggles to break the way that interfaces use our attention. Attention is all in the eyes: gaze-tracking software is used to monitor students and drivers to ensure they pay heed to the task at hand. But attention could also be hacked through the eyes.
That's the concept I'm currently working on. Taking cues from this research that posits blinking as a refresh button for our attention bandwidth, and the well-documented instances of mirroring in psychology (where you can sync your blink rate with the person you're talking to), I'm defacing a number of internet attention sinkholes with blinking selfies culled from Tumblr. Here's one prepared earlier: