In this day and age, the majority of us are familiar with the World Wide Web. We already have a conventional idea of what websites are, how websites are supposed to look like and how they can be navigated. We go through a preset array of motions, scrolling and clicking our way through this digital terrain, as we traverse bytes and data.
Surely nothing new can faze us now right? Have websites become predictable in terms of form and function?
When a user lands on the homepage of jodi.org, he is greeted with…and therein lies an interesting twist. The homepage is never constant. Never. Visiting www.jodi.org again will result in an entirely different landing page. The URL in the address bar would change by itself, redirecting the user somewhere else even though he typed in the correct url.
What peaked my interest as I continued exploring the site was the complete lack of an attempt to let the visitor know what to do, where to go, what to click on and so forth. There were no instructions, no guides. The only available form of text was butchered and chopped up, mixed together with a healthy dose of symbols and ascii art elements. On the surface, it just looks like one big mess. But perhaps there is something larger at work?
Sometimes some portions of the text are clickable, leading the user on towards parts unknown. This reminded me of SURPRISE.SG (one of the many websites which are part of the Web Art Movement initiated by OSS alumni Eugene Soh) where the user is presented with a big red button to click on to move from watching one video to another without being able to know in advance what he is going to watch. The videos which play one after another and their content range from the absurd to the absolute surreal (hence the title, “SURPRISE”)
Extracts from SURPRISE.SG
Where jodi.org differs from a website like surprise.sg is that it abandons the idea of even making something actually look clickable. Hyperlinks could be hidden virtually anywhere, residing in-between chunks of “nonsensical” text and gibberish, waiting for the user to hover their mouse over them. The conventional notion of web aesthetics and user interface are thrown out the window with wild abandon, resulting in unpredictable user experiences for anyone who visits jodi.org. Clearly it seems as though the creators of the website do not want users to attempt to understand what is going, and they seem to taken great care to ensure that there is no possible trace for visitors to pick up on to even know what is going on.
Screengrabs from jodi.org
I attempted to visit jodi.org again for the “n”th time, and sure enough I got redirected to another url (www.wrongbrowser.com). The following below details this particular visit which bore an unexpected present.
I landed on an almost barren page.
There were no instructions, no popups telling me what to look at or what to follow. I was completely left to my own devices.
On the left were what appeared to be hyperlinks which would bring me to other sites hosted on different domains. In the middle of the site, there were two small squares of black and yellow. Above them, the words “mac osx” and “pc win” were flush aligned against each square. Right at the top, “%WRONG Browser” screamed in bold and above that, a “9.04”.
Even though this just how sparse the layout was on the site, it was enough for me to draw a relationship between the two squares and the words at the top.
It was enough for me to come to the following conclusion: If I was on a Macintosh, I should click the black square. If I was on Windows, I should click on the yellow square. Seemed straight forward enough. I inched my mouse over the black square and clicked it. Immediately, my browser started downloading something. There was no prompt, no warning beforehand. All I saw was the progress bar filling up as my browser downloaded what seemed to be a zip file which was suspiciously titled “COM.zip”.
Leaving my sense of better judgement behind, I went ahead and unzipped the file (but not before making sure I had saved whatever stuff I was working on in case something terrible unfolded on my computer). The contents of the zip file was only an executable, nothing more. I double-clicked it, as though by some hard wired response.
Or so it seemed.
My cursor turned into a spinning beach ball.
My screen went black.
A few seconds later, my screen was the host to a sea of white, populated by random blocks of blue, green, red, black and yellow.
Lines of text started running on the screen, growing in length, stopping, and starting again.
I had lost control of my computer.
Could gibberish be a new form of cryptography? Maybe the various symbols stem from some sort of system grounded in logic? Or maybe they don’t? Perhaps the site pokes fun at security, and the lengths to which one might go to hide their digital footprints in many more subsections of digital footprints scattered across a server. Whatever may be the intent, there is clearly a sense of mischief afoot in the minds of the creators of jodi.org.
When encountering jodi.org, the web visitor is encouraged to be an active participant. Instead of being spoon-fed instructions on how to navigate and what to look at, the unassuming web surfer gets pushed into a system of organized chaos. A system where language, text and usability get subverted, maybe even exploited and abused, leaving behind a long unending trail of web-domains and hyperlinks which link to one another. Even in the wake of such sheer abandon and destruction of conventional forms, a new aesthetic form is being given birth to: a form where the very raw and at times crude visual amalgamation of media and text become visually striking and maybe, even visually unique from anything else we have been exposed to on World Wide Web.
Welcome to the net.art movement.
For more thoughts about jodi.org, check out Nasir’s musings.