There is the Facebook we all know. It’s run by Mark Zuckerberg, the lovable Harvard dropout gone billionaire, and it feeds us an unlimited stream of news and photos of our friends’ kids through a blue and grey sheen engineered to offend no one.
And then there’s another Facebook. A Facebook devoid of our personal data, which Zuckerberg stole away for himself, leaving a lone mattress salesman named Buck Calhoun to pick up the pieces. Buck has an entrepreneurial spirit and a penchant for onions. His best piece of advice for young up-and-comers? “Breed a new kind of dog in secret.” He may be a bit off, but Buck is also a very hard worker. It appears that he cuts out his version of Facebook by hand, printing, taping, and scanning each bit of text and interface, then uploading them through what we can only imagine is a 1993 desktop pumping data through AOL at 28.8k.
This is The Data Drive, a Facebook parody that’s designed and written by Daniel Kolitz, coded by Sam Lavigne, and published as the first project by the self-funded publishing collective Useless Press. “We have very big aspirations but they are not clear even to us yet,” writes co-founder Adrian Chen via email.
In a similar vein, it’s tough to know just who or what The Data Drive is for. It’s a piece of absurdist comedy produced at a surprisingly grand scope. Parts are gut-punching media parody. A NYT story on the NSA takes you to a paywall. It’s only 99 cents to subscribe for 4 weeks, it explains. But you can read for free if you click on the writer who most deserves to be fired without severance because you’re too cheap to pay! Other parts are pure alt comedy, like a site for Jaromire’s Sausage Enclosure, a sausage shop that would like to highlight that it has both a broom and an old copy of Maxim that Jaromire didn’t mean to upload onto his site, but now that it’s there, well, it’s there.
Murky intent aside, the most enticing part of The Data Drive may be its sheer depth; all of these quirky links and ads actually go somewhere. Over two months, Kolitz wrote 100 modules of content–from status updates, to news articles on Forbes, to overzealous Chipotle chatbots that want to become your friend and sell you a burrito bowl–and then over two months assembled the layout on good old analog paper.
This design process, which he developed for his tumblr blog The Printed Internet—when he wanted to make some internet but didn’t know how to use Photoshop—starts with the writing. Then he screen grabs websites and prints them out. After that’s done, he types his text up in Microsoft Word, attempting to match the font and kerning of the real websites, and prints those, too. Then he begins assembling each collage. “It’s an extremely, unwieldy, unnecessary labor intensive process,” Kolitz says. “I use a 99-cent gluestick from the dollar store, and a shitty pair of scissors covered in glue. Then I scan it back on my hard rolled scanner–the more battered and shitty my scanner gets, the more interesting the collages get.”
With the collages done, Lavigne used an old web development technique to bring them to life, mapping the page-sized jpegs with URLs so that their print-based links would feel interactive. The entire effect may have been tedious to create, but in an era when every responsive website looks and works exactly the same way, the results feel completely bespoke. And so while the Data Drive may be originally inspired by the absurdity of social media, through its unique production process and unbridled prolificness, it’s more like a trip into a wholly new, slightly off, media dimension.
“Part of me has a tendency to [want to] hole up for 10 years and to create an alternate internet that no one sees,” Kolitz says.