Internet site serves up world news as a work of modern art

Science & Technology

March 06, 2005|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Information is power, and in the hands of Jonathan Harris, it's also art.

Against the white background of his Web site 10x10 - - Harris has arranged a 10-by-10 grid of snapshots. The grid is bordered on the right by 100 tiny words.

The effect is reminiscent of contemporary art, and as with all art, there's more here than meets the eye.

"It's a shorthand view of the world," says Harris, 25, of New York. "How do you encapsulate a single moment in time in an objective and rational way?"

Harris' computer program munches on news stories and serves up what it chooses as the 100 most important words used in online articles by BBC World Edition, Reuters and New York Times International.

Then the program attaches news images to represent those words, thus creating the grid.

The images meld into an eye-pleasing, abstract metapicture. The list of words and associated images are updated every hour.

If you run your cursor over a word on the list, its accompanying image in the grid lights up. If you click on the picture, you will see headlines of the news stories where the word appears. Clicking on the headline opens the complete news article.

Sometimes, the links between words and pictures are not readily apparent. "I do that on purpose," Harris says, "because otherwise you could miss something quite obscure. Say there's a story on the Xbox, but Xbox is mentioned once. If I excluded unusual words, you could miss something big."

The list of 100 words is generated automatically, as are their accompanying pictures.

Harris' program copies images from the news sites focused on the center third of the photo and just a bit higher, producing images that appear to have been cropped by a human, not by computer.

Harris' site is a descendant of the Minimal Art of the 1960s, in which artists emphasized the structure of art, as opposed to the art itself.

In creating 10x10, Harris discovered something about himself: "You still find certain hours [in the grid] really boring - pictures of a lot of people giving speeches, having meetings, and you don't want to see more. When there's violence, explosions and buildings on fire, that's when you want to click on every picture in the grid. This surprised me, because it I've been a critic of sensationalist media, but I do crave that."

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