A storytelling Web agent, telling a story of impermanence

About the Agent

The Impermanence Agent was a storytelling Web agent that monitored each user's browsing, gleaned appropriate texts and images from that browsing, and then used this material to "customize" its story for each reader. It took the form of a small browser window (for displaying its content) and a proxy server (for monitoring browsing and making small alterations to browsed pages). The Agent eventually customized its own story out of existence, while interspersing this process with agent-like responses to the patterns of browsing (e.g., help through the Kubler-Ross stages as 404 errors were encountered). The Agent — rather than operating as an artwork for the audience to visit, appreciate, and then leave behind — was constructed as an addition to daily browsing, a site-specific artwork for the context of information work, to be appreciated peripherally, over time, as its alterations progressed and provided a collage mirror of each reader's browsing activity. The Agent was first presented as part of the 1998 project "Omnizone: Mapping Perspectives of Digital Culture," organized by Plexus. It later appeared at SVA's New York Digital Salon, the New Museum's Z Media Lounge, and the Guggenheim Museum's Brave New Word.

After the Agent was effectively "retired" at the end of 2002, a new version, The Agent's Story (2003), was created for the Whitney Museum's Artport. This version replaces customization for each individual reader with audience surveillance of the customizations created for a small number of "featured browsers." The original story, the story I wrote (of documents preserved and lost and corrupted), is never seen — only many customized stories, the Agent's rather than my own. It was presented as a large quilt, with each panel showing one piece of the story (text or image) repeatedly, as customized for different browsers.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin