Skate the Web

Originally the web was supposed to be browsed, but in fact it was “surfed”. Unfortunately not for long. All the fun to follow link after link and immerse in sudden findings was soon delegated to search engine bots. And gradually the WWW was rebuild in a way that is inhuman — pages with no links or with zombie links. So those of us who remember how to surf and are willing to do it can fall into frustration. To find like-minded people and have fun it is recommended to join a surf club*, to go to a web surfing event, or to organize one.

There is no cool sports metaphor for typing keywords and getting search results. So it is prosaically called googling.

Eight years ago, on the peak of the blogging revolution, Henry Jenkins suggested that blogging is as awesome as snowboarding, but this brave comparison didn’t make it into the urban dictionary. (Read my older post on why it wouldn’t work outside of California.)

2009 skateboarding introduced as a metaphor. Skate the Web! — The idea comes from the circle of internet art, but is articulated by representatives of different generations and is therefore filled with different meanings.

Being cynical

Webcrash visitors.

JODI are Net Art veterans. Their recent project — SK8MONKEY — was an event when people could skate on keyboards mounted on wheels. The keyboard were damaged but still functional, connected to computers logged on to Twitter. So you were tweeting by skating. Or in other words, to skate the web is to fill it with content seamlessly and mindlessly.

Being confident

Flayer for Skate the Web show.
Tobias Leingruber, “add-on artist”, author of many great Firefox extensions and curator of the artzilla platform, just published his Skate the web! manifest. An excerpt:

“[…] Open source web browsers like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome allow you to influence the way you access websites. Through additional software, called add-ons or extensions, based on the web browser client, you can completely rearrange the way you experience the internet.

Users no longer have to access information like the architect or designer of the web service wants them to. You want a black background on Change it to black. You don’t want to see any online advertisements anymore? Install an ad blocking extension to your browser and they are gone. The owners of that website might not like it, but there’s not much they can do about it. They could temporarily disable your code by making it technically more difficult to access their content, but since hackers love those kind of challenges, they’ll always a solution.


… street skateboarders, just like street artists, see amazing opportunities in public space while others might see nothing but boring concrete. Skaters are on a mission, and they have style. The streets belong to them. When you skate the streets, you use public architecture in ways the creators didn’t expect it to be used, and a lot of times don’t want you to.


If you enjoy grabbing a skateboard to hit the streets and turn public space upside down, you might as well grab some browser code and SKATE THE WEB.”

Or in other words, to skate the web is to write and install add-ons, to make the web belong to you.

Sounds appealing. To compare skateboards and add-ons is smart, modern and legitimate. Both are tools to misuse the given space. Trouble starts when one gets more general and compares add-on art with street art. As my colleague Mario Doulis noticed during Tobias’ final project presentation**: “Street art much is about boarding public space, about leaving an individual statement as common mark, visible for everybody. It’s there - whether we notice it or not, whether we can decipher it or not, wether we want it or not. Nothing to be prepared or installed.”

It makes me think about the very beautiful Project X. In 1996 British artist Heath Bunting started to write an unusual chalk tag with a URL in public spaces around the world.

The middle of the 1990’s was a time when people were very curios about URLs. They would type when they’d come back to their computers. To find out that they are actively participating in the survey of “graffiti street internet interface” and its their job to fill this location with meaning.

Bunting skating.


** “Skate the Web” manifesto is part of Leingruber’s final thesis.

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