"b .  #ANDY",
"y .  #DECK",

/* Keywords and questions */
ASCII art. Written pictures, drawn words. What's in this for the participant, and what's brought to it by participants? What remains when they leave?

/* What is Icontext? */
Icontext is a free space on the Web that presents visitors with an open-ended interplay of words and pictures. What you do with your keyboard and mouse determines what appears on the screen and what subsequent visitors see and read. At its most basic level, Icontext is a hybrid of telecommunication, drawing, and word processing software. It sets up a fluid correspondence between keystrokes and blocks of color. For example, when you type "dog," the word "dog" appears, and so does a series of three color blocks. Icontext also works on other levels, allowing visitors to collaborate with each other and to upload, archive, and reconfigure "icontexts."

/* What are icontexts? */
They are simultaneously icons and texts. Within Icontext, each letter typed appears also as a colored pixel in the emerging icon, while drawing a line leaves a parallel trail of letters. Not every image is an interesting text and vice versa, but the Icontext software lets people negotiate the balance (or imbalance) between image and text. The "icontext" is the resulting document, which is simultaneously an icon and a text.

/* How can a picture be a text? */
Icontext uses an XPM image file format that lets keyboard characters signify colors. Each keyboard character is associated with a color in the color index. Icontexts are 50 pixels square, so there are 2500 characters in each icontext. Each icontext contains one hyperlink to another icontext, so that ideas of more than 2500 characters can be built out of a sequence of icontexts. Lastly, each icontext can be assigned a category. Both the category and hyperlink can be edited by anyone using the site--not only the author or original artist.

/* Why? */
Because, in a flexible system, people can express themselves creatively. Because collaboration and communication produce surprising results. Because the experience of Icontext changes constantly depending on visitor participation. The productive (or counterproductive) feedback generated in response to Icontext is what becomes Icontext.

/* What do people make? */
When given tools to collaborate (anonymously?) across the room or across national borders, what will people make? If a fundamental reciprocity can be maintained--a balance of getting and giving--what emerges is undoubtedly unforeseen and potentially exciting. Visitors affect the organization of the icontexts as well as their individual contents through the act of linking and categorizing. This yields a structure that is malleable and influenced by the public. One term for this largely uncharted process is collaborative filtering. There is a danger, as has been pointed out by Walker Art Center's Steve Dietz, that collaborative filtering can "create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in which the most-visited pages are...visited the most." Balancing conservation and public control, Icontext provides many different ways of locating icontexts. It retains all of them--keeping them in play, even if they've been categorized as "trashy" or "offensive." In contrast to recent American legislation mandating filtration in public libraries, it is believed that software should not be used to conceal or automate judgment. Software, through its framing of an interaction, can affect the intensity with which visitors engage themselves in critical decisions. Interfaces and software call forth particular behavior patterns -- passive, contemplative, spastic, creative, etc. Icontext is intended as an amusement and as a contribution to the ongoing consideration of questions related to the public's role in the creative processes that shape the Internet as it expands.