When discussing the far reaches of the Worldwide Web it is easy to focus on the dark, dank corners- 4chan and its infamous /b/ board, Encyclopedia Dramatica, and those many, many shock sites. Misogyny, homophobia, and racism reign. Cruelty is the community standard, bullying is a-ok, and almost everything is anonymous. These may be some of the best-known, non-mainstream Web locations, but they are not the definitive standard. In the virtual world as in the physical, great good places (1) exist that provide positive outlets for informal social interaction.
New Media artists enjoy the interactivity of the Web’s spaces by creating works which can be viewed- and, more importantly, interacted with- from the privacy of one’s own home. In a way the Internet has taken on the role once reserved for coffee shops, cafes, and other places of convention: it is a place for individuals to present themselves and their work. As with any place there are good and bad places, good and bad inhabitants. Towards the end of presenting some of the better aspects of the Internet, here are a few of the (sometimes self-proclaiming) nicest places on the Internet.
http://thisissand.com/ – The name, like the site, is unpretentious. “This is Sand.” Yes, it is. Sort of. An interactive welcome screen gives users the opportunity to create planes of colored sand (the default a gray scale, but with a color picker tool available) to the soft swish of simulated play. The act is meditative and the final results often striking. A gallery on another part of the site links to saved works from other users. Some are abstract and directly a result of the constraints of the medium, others are painstakingly detailed workarounds. All provide an interesting juxtaposition to the seemingly solitary activity of dropping virtual sand.
zombo.com – “Welcome to zombocom. This is zombocom. Welcome… You can do anything at zombocom, anything at all. The only limit is yourself.” So speaks the site when one first arrives. Utilizing simple animation and minimalistic design scheme, zombocom exists as a free-standing page with no links or explanation. It flashes soft-colored animated circles and asserts its motivational message- no strings attached, “Welcome!”
thenicestplaceontheinter.net – “Having one of those days? Yeah, been there too. And sometimes a little pick-me-up is hard to come by. So come on by to turn the sad into happy and the happy into a celebration. Cause this is a nice place to visit on days like today,” reads the About page of The Nicest Place on the Internet. On the homepage a blown-up compilation videos of unnamed individuals offers the viewer hugs, one by one in rapid succession. Some huggers are assertive, some shy, and some intimate but all share the quality that one almost always feels a bit better than before after a few virtual hugs.
Of course, legitimate arguments can be made that the viral image edits which sometimes spring from /b/ and even some of the shock photos favored by Web trolls are new media art. Perhaps they are. Such things do not benefit the community, though, and it is this author’s opinion that the best art is that which improves the world. Or at least some small part of it.
1 Soukup, C. Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: building Oldenburg’s great good places on the world wide web. New Media & Society (2006). Vol. 8, Iss. 3, pages 421-440.