about versioning 

perpetual beta

Johnny Ryan, Senior Researcher at the Institute of International and European Affairs, published in 2010 a book about the history of the Internet, which opens several questions about the digital future. Chapter ten is entitled “Web 2.0 and the Return to the Oral Tradition” and starts with a reflection by Ted Nelson, the creator of hypertext; in the project Xanadu’s website Nelson had criticized the www as just “another imitation of paper”. Ryan describes the “new plasticity of information” through the developments of digital information and distribution which

as in oral tradition […] digitized information has no ‘final cut’ […] Wikipedia proves the point. The Wikipedia article on John W. Bush has been edited 40723 times as of 15 June 2009. [1]

This is the ‘perpetual beta’ of Web 2.0 and its properties influences everyone that works with cultural contents inside and outside digital networks.

a few quotes about Versioning

A digital image may be one of the many possible versions of a digital “original.” Boris Groys, for one, believes that “original” digital images do not exist, the original of a digital image being the image file: a flow of digital information that becomes visible only when it is executed, or staged, as it were, by a program. Each digital image is therefore the documentation of an invisible original: the file itself. These observations notwithstanding, the notion of originality is reintroduced in the form of a convention – or a mystification, as some will have it – deriving from a power system that associates originality with an established level of quality, a specific kind of certification, a precise placement.
The above distinctions – mediated reproduction, a poor image, an original – are still conceptually valid, mind you, but the rising generation of users and creators are developing a different sort of sensibility toward them. This is an inevitable process, if we consider that the overwhelming majority of our experiences are connected to nothing other than mediated reproductions and poor images. Indeed, mediated experience is perceived as authentic experience. “I enjoy interpretations and mediated experiences: books about books, exhibition catalogs, interpretations of films. Some of my favorite artworks and movies have only been described to me,” Oliver Laric has declared. Moreover, poor images are considered to be not mere reproductions but legitimate versions of a work, adapted to a specific distribution system; at best, they are seen as intermediate phases of an ongoing process unfolding somewhere between physical space and information space: works in progress that you can always go back to, in any case. As Seth Price explains in his video work Redistribution: “Software works like this; it’s essentially in flux, always pointing to the next version and the last version, but somehow understood to be the same over time. This has transferred to a lot of my work, including this video.” [2]

The word remix has become emblematic of the collective malaise felt toward the nihilism of postmodern authorship. Kicked off by Roland Barthes’s death of the author, the idea that contemporary culture was merely a combination of parts from the past became very popular in polemicized postmodern discourse. Some variation of Douglas Huebler’s quote “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more,” has echoed in the artists’ heads ever since. While it’s inevitable that future creations will always be indebted in some way to the past, this totalizing idea—that nothing new can or ever will be created—is routinely disproven by the reality around us. In art, the new is created out of the past’s inability to accurately represent the present. […]
Rather than destabilizing the role of the author or originality, the A-to-B remix emboldens the legitimacy of the original through the attention it was paid when remaking it anew and the expanded audience it gains as a result. It makes sense that the most commonly remixed songs on YouTube are also the most viewed songs on YouTube. The remix is not confrontational; it’s a tribute of fandom, an admission that the first product was so good that it can be dressed up in a seemingly endless number of variants and still maintain its excellence.
But what if the remix were to remove its own footnotes? There is a second type of cultural production taking place that is often called remixing but may deserve a term of its own. To borrow from Oliver Laric, I’ll nickname this type of production progressive versioning. Instead of maintaining a connection to the original, progressive versioning loses touch with where it came from, who it was made by, and when it was made. Progressive versioning is the process Plutarch describes when he asked whether a ship that was restored by replacing all of its wooden parts remained the same ship. Progressive versioning is not about the valorization of the original but about losing all ties to it, about adding to and switching out variables until none of the results bare any resemblance to where they started. [3]

[1] J. Ryan, A History of the Internet and the Digital Future, Reaktion Books, London 2010, pp. 137-140

[2] D. Quaranta, Collect the WWWorld, Link Editions, Brescia 2011, pp. 9-11

[3] B. Troemel, The Word Remix Is Corny, DIS Magazine, october 2012. http://dismagazine.com/blog/37255/the-word-remix-is-corny/

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