Spinning the meta-web
The trend of websites commenting on other websites and web phenomena
- Serie: DIGITAL LIFE
Some of us find it hard enough keeping up with the web, let alone the meta-web. So what is it, and who cares?
Actually I fabricated the term, to imply a kind of second-tier commentary (as in a meta-narrative) that reflects upon the primary, or main level while operating within the same arena. Put simply, the meta web as I see refers to the trend of websites self-consciously reflecting or commenting upon existing websites and internet fads.
Knowing Meme, knowing you
At the top of the list is probably Know Your Meme, which is ‘dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena’ known as memes- or, for those up on the lingo, a confirmed trend which has circulated widely enough online to have solidified into a recognizable cultural construct.
For example you will have come across lolcats, or ‘laugh out loud cats’, which, in their multiple iterations are the stars of I Can Has Cheezburger? (don’t ask).
Another is the terminally inane ‘what people think I do/ what I really do’ series - though I must confess to have lol’d at the accuracy of what artists’ 'really do': write proposals.
A recently ‘confirmed’ meme for example is Hipster Kitty, which in various text accompaniments bestows advice in the supercilious, smug tones associated (rightly or wrongly) with all thing hipster.
Know your meme’s self-appointed role is thus to monitor web trends and certify which ones have gained the requsite critical mass through replication and dissemination to be crowned memes, thereby creating a kind of survey of the web, from within the web and its users.
Another slew of websites showcase the best and worst of social networking sites, like Facebook, mainly for the cringe and entertainment value they generate. Failbook, for instance lists reams of examples of moronic, witty and hilarious status updates, which users can submit for consideration; one of my favourites features an unfortunate declaration of love to a boyfrend known as @c*ntdestroyer.
Of course you could argue that these sites are basically a modern incarnation of medieval public humiliation rituals like the stocks, but with far more potential pelters and audience.
Text-only versions of pic sites
Approaching the meta-web from a different, less malicious yet equally funny angle are the text-only versions of image and photo sites. I nearly choked on my tea when perusing Pictureless Pinterest, which simply lists the text which accompanies the pictures users post.
As Pinterest is an app and online pinboard inviting users to ‘organize and share things you love’, the result is an endless list of objects, consumer knick-knacks, inspirational quotes and helpful instructions- though ‘an infographic about how to fold a t-shirt perfectly’ induced a wave of inadequacy at the thought of my own home-keeping standards, presumably not the poster’s intention.
The texts generated inadvertently echo the Conceptual Poetry of Kenneth Goldsmith, famous for heroically unoriginal acts of poetry like transcribing a weekend’s worth of New York City traffic reports.
The deadpan delivery slyly deflates these objects of desire while implying the absurdity of spending ones time informing total strangers of stuff you like.
Other text-only contenders
In a similar vein is Twitter account @textinstagram, supplying a text only version of filtered-photo site Instagram. This calls on the reader to imagine the text descriptions- including gems like ‘Female hand grasping expensive beverage’- through the fog of a faux-vintage overlay.
And joining the game is TextBasedTumblr which, you guessed it, reduces the images people post up on tumblr into their text descriptions. Images are ‘seen’ at one remove, as the search bots see them, while the text- which is normally instrumentalised to support the image- becomes the focus.
Truimph of text over image
What’s interesting to me is this triumph of text over imagery, in an apparent refusal of their mass proliferation. The re-presentation of supposedly alluring images as boring lists also indicates a potentially subversive undertone of anti-consumerism and/ or anti-social-media, poking fun at both the pointless content we feel the need to publicly ‘share’ and the practice of sharing itself.
The importance of metadata
It also foregrounds the importance of text, in the form of metadata like titles, captions, tags and keywords that accompany all the visual material we consume.
Without it, these images are lost in space, as search bots cannot (yet) see; text is a necessary component of the web-image, allowing it to be located and therefore to exist at all.
For what its worth, I predict a new trend- photos sites based on these text descriptions, creating a feedback loop. Or maybe that will become my next project.