net composition and culture map
Mapping the content of the World Wide Web is an increasingly subjective endeavor. CultureMap playfully represents the Web, posing questions about how people find information and about what they find. Each day, CultureMap samples the results given by popular search engines in order to spotlight tendencies and biases. In searching for information on the Web, most people now use portals that offer very similar categorical entry points. These commonplace terms (e.g. Finance, Society, Shopping) are something like a map of Web content. How arbitrary are these starting points? It may be that the categories currently in vogue do not reflect the actual content of the Web.

Use of the CultureMap begins with selection of initial categories. Once these choices are registered, the CultureMap software presents the terms visually. The map that is generated assigns a region to each category, scaled according to the prevalence of the term in the pages of the Web. This scale is determined by using data from several search engines. Details of the method are available.

The visualization can then be modified: users are encouraged to try alternative categories. This may be done by clicking on a region of the existing map and typing a new category name in the text dialog box that appears. The map will then be recomposed to reflect the new category. Additional documentation is also available.

Using menus embedded in the CultureMap interface, visitors can also initiate a time-lapse display of gradual changes in the prevalence of 32 common "top level" categories. The data have been collected only since January 2000, so this aspect of CultureMap is likely to get more interesting as time passes (due to the demise of two of the search engines used originally, the visualizations begin with January, 2014 as their starting point). The rise of e-commerce is bound to lead to a different balance of content on the Web. But without records and representations, how will it be noticed?

Made by media artist Andy Deck, founder of Artcontext, this work is a 2000 commission of Turbulence (New Radio and Performing Arts), with support from the Greenwall Foundation.