For Immediate release 10/1/99  
 Icontext         By Andy Deck  

public void init(){
  Written pictures, drawn words.  Operable ASCII art.  Chat 
  processing.  Collaborative connectivity.  What's in this 
  for the participant, and what's brought to it by participants?  
  What remains when they leave?

public void main(){
      Icontext, which opens this week at http://artcontext.com, 
  is a hybrid of telecommunication, drawing, and word processing
  software.  Icontext serves as a framework for an open-ended
  interplay of pictures and text.  What visitors do with their 
  keyboards and mice will determine what subsequent visitors 
  see and read. 
      Unlike the artist's previous work, with projects like 
  GrafficJam, Icontext tries to engage people in writing as well 
  as drawing.  Borrowing ideas from ASCII art and cryptography, 
  it gives a new meaning to the term "multi-media," because its
  products are simultaneously icons and columns of text.  Each 
  letter typed appears also as a color within the emerging icon,    
  while drawing a line leaves a parallel trail of letters.  Not 
  every image is an interesting text and vice versa, but the 
  Icontext software lets people negotiate the balance (or 
  imbalance) between image and text.  
      A network-based art that depends on voluntary contributions 
  for a significant part of its content finds itself in a precarious 
  half-empty, half-full condition.  Nevertheless, the completion of 
  the piece by the public invites analysis that steps beyond the 
  scrutiny of the artist's motivations and ideosyncracies to the 
  evaluation of a cultural moment, the behavior of the public, and 
  the necessary preconditions for successful forms of computer-
  mediated collaboration.  
      Because of the inconsistent quality of contributions to 
  open projects like this, there are simple mechanisms that let 
  all visitors reorganize the archived "icontexts."  The hyper-text 
  links that people encounter, leading from one "icontext" to the 
  next, can be changed; and people are encouraged to classify the 
  contents of the archive.  There is, however, no means to delete 
  contributions.  Although somewhat arbitrary, these rules aim to 
  make the archive reflect all the submissions rather than the 
  preferences of a few zealous users.  
      Other online projects by Andy Deck include Commission Control, 
  GrafficJam, OpenStudio, and Space Invaders Act 1732.  His 
  artworks deal primarily with the development of collaborative 
  process in the context of art and connectivity.  The artist's 
  work, which can be found on the web at http://artcontext.com, has 
  been shown recently at Thing.net, Prix Ars Electronica, 
  Turbulence.org, Bostoncyberarts.org, and Postmaster's Gallery.