I’m surfing the Internet. (Do people still “surf” the Internet?) Maybe I’m just “on the web.”
I’m pricing a RAM upgrade. I’m checking when the next Flux Death Match will be. I have all sorts of code snippets I’ve been working on in various tabs. And sure, I’m doing some ego surfing too–gotta search my Gmail for who’s talking about me on Twitter–but everyone does that, right?
The thing is, I’m not a coder, and I’d never heard of Flux Death Match before today. Someone else–a guy named Jonas Lund–has total control of my browser because I’ve downloaded his Chrome extension called Selfsurfing. I see everywhere he visits on the web in real time, presented as if I’m going there myself, complete with several tabs.
I really hope he doesn’t visit some weird fetish site when someone’s over my shoulder. Scratch that, I can’t wait to see if he does.
Technically, what’s going on is very basic. “Each change to my browser is stored in a simple mysql database,” Lund explains to Co.Design, “so it’s both a continuous broadcast as well as a growing archive of my online activities.” Locally, my browser accesses his database and redirects me to follow Lund’s path. Selfsurfing is a clever, low-overhead use of simple web protocols, which only exacerbates the project’s brilliance: how has no one done this before? “I think most people prefer to browse privately,” Lund responds.
You might call Lund an exhibitionist, or you might call him narcissistic. But despite the project being about him–and despite partaking in a recent 24-hour marathon of browsing, which made news across the blogosphere–he really doesn’t see his own habits as the attraction. “I think it’s more about the experience of
seeing your browser acting on its own, like a self-surfing application sending you around the www’s rather than an interest in my personal stuff,” he writes, “even though I got a lot of good feedback on the music which was playing.”
He is right: I’m not keeping the browser open to see where Lund goes next, but where that crazy, sentient Chrome window takes me. It’s not hard to imagine Lund expanding what he’s created, to invent a Chatroulette for browsing–follow someone anonymous around the web–or for celebrities to take the idea over and make it an experience more about “Did Matt Damon accidentally open porn, or is he just like, cool about it??” And once in the hands of celebrities, a monetization model where we see their favorite shirts, music, and mail-order steaks seems inevitable.
But from the little I know about Lund–part interview, part spying on his Internet tastes–he seems more of the new wave of coder-artist-type than aggressive entrepreneur. And no doubt, many will see Selfsurfing as akin to getting nude on stage. What he’s sharing is extraordinarily personal.
Most of us treat the web anonymously. It’s not just about sexual proclivity, it’s about that afternoon we spend looking at model train sets or visiting Urban Dictionary to decipher wtf our friend’s son is talking about on Facebook (where, is it weird we were checking in on him?).
If Selfsurfing seems like a fresh idea–and it is–maybe that’s not because we have the urge to spy on someone else’s life. The web already offers unlimited Peeping Tom opportunities with Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Maybe Selfsurfing is exciting because it’s a way we could all share a bit more–all of us who’ve become so very private in the everyday things we do.