The Shadow Search Platform (SSP) is a technological environment that enables new, alternative or opposing ways to explore, find, organize and present information.
The platform will provide a space where we can experiment with our data, build new algorithms and link new indexes of information. In combination with custom made datasets dealing with a specific movement, concept or event, the goal is to challenge dominant ideas about information organization. Although SSP is largely technological - a space to gather, organize and realise not yet indexed data - it is intimately linked with both theory and real world practices with the participation of a user community, as a means to explore the future of search.
We will organise a Hackathon where we bring together (offline and online) not only hackers but the user community (see below) to help rethink the concept of search and to critique and give feedback on the alternative possibilities that come up during SSP. There would also be the opportunity to engage in collaborative computer programming sessions in order to actually develop alternative algorithms. Our first task is to design an algorithm that is able to find off-the-radar or stealth activities that could be deemed as art activities, yet are hidden, unseen or not acknowledged by the contemporary art world or the ordering devices of the Web such as Google.
Therefore at the hackathon we will begin with the winner of the Open Call for algorithmic representations, 'Narcissus', which addressed the retrieval criteria for the Shadow Searching project in November 2009 at n.e.w.s (http://northeastwestsouth.net/node/392), a collective online platform for the analysis and development of artistic activities. The 'Narcissus' plugin was chosen for its unique ability to accentuate the dynamics of shadow and attention, along with its scalability and replicability in a variety of contexts (both online and in archival situations). 'Narcissus' uses what might be termed as a democratic algorithm, one which keeps placing often sought after, popular information, in the dark, whilst bringing less popular, “minority information”, new, ignored, or un-noticed relevant information to potentially get its share of the lime light. Once a given search result becomes popular, 'Narcissus' moves it to a less relevant phase (a process of marginalizen/moving to the periphery of the “popular” sources), which allows other results to become more visible. The more a search result is popular, the longer it will spend in the cycle's less relevant phases.
Shadow Search Platform not only attempts to design a means to frame hidden art activities but questions the manner and way in which we search, how we find what we seek on the Internet. Algorithmical search has caused an epistemological shift from how we find information and how this information is structured, distributed and is shaping knowledge production. One could see this as the shift from the librarian or expert editor to the algorithm that uses collective knowledge and can deal with massive data sets. It contests the dominant paradigm of search engines structuring our lives, in which companies profits from our searches like an advertising company, which then uses our data to redefine and change the way we search. Besides taking a run at Google's monopoly, SSP puts (re)search on the agenda, and combines critical, cultural inquiries into art, bridging different fields from activism to archiving in an extradisciplinary perspective.
SSP will offer the user community a unique way to search yet needs their participation. The target audience, or user community, are the contributors to the index of SSP from the artistic, cultural and new media sectors: artists, curators, alternative media, online communities, collaborative social groups and activists, researchers, students at national art academies, scholars and cultural adventurers (DMI, virtueel platform, META, INC, etc.). The user community will contribute to the project in three structural parts: crawl and index information about the cultural practices along with openly available meta-data about its popularity and visibility. They will do this through a distributed system that they can configure, tweak and deploy within their own networks and developing an extensible query interface which by the means of the retrieval algorithms, displays the results to the user and opens up the platform. SSP will offer the user-community ways to customize the protocols in which information from the index is retrieved. They will also contribute to designing an API that will enable the user community of the project to devise their own ways of interpreting and prioritizing parameters of visibility important to their specific group or needs.
Shadow Search Platform will be built to work for community websites, and as such, will be an ongoing web-art project that offers a way to produce and distribute evolving information equally. SSP not only includes the ‘established’ or ‘institutionalised’ artistic sphere but people outside mainstream networks. SSP attempts to come up with other models of search so that it is a democratic, distributed, non-centralised, and collaborative tool. The project will reach the user community by direct invitation, engagement, and include partial remuneration for participation and user collaboration (prosumer in the positive sense of the word). The user community will be continually involved through regular releases of a well-documented code, an updated wiki, a manual and a bug-tracker where they can get involved with the development process by filing bugs that they come across. Through this collaborative endeavour we intend to design alternative ways to search.
Web 2.0 makes innovations like the SSP possible. User-generated content will contribute to the advancement of technology yet is remunerated by open-source distribution. With SSP the model of online shared authorship and open source enables versatility and rapid coding, without overhead costs of physical space. Web 2.0 enables quicker distribution of information and allows sustainable collaboration with diverse parties around the world, such as 'live' sessions and feedback, with less carbon footprint.