The Living Thing / Notebooks : How to discover new media art on the web

First published in Realtime magazine.

“New media art” is a tricky creature to track. If that shred of description “new” implies anything, it is constant obsolescence, for the content of art with this designation changes as the whimsy of the arts scene reclassifies media as “established”. This definitional problem is an old and tedious one.

Staying abreast of the new media dialogue is a more tractable challenge, and the most important tip for doing so is pleasingly recursive: use tools from the (broadly-defined) new media toolbox to stay abreast of the new media. As the networked arts often make their homes on the web, so do techniques for the analysis and dissemination of the undefinable, the faddish and the ephemeral. The art of wrapping your head around it is in collaborative networked discovery.

First step, for the time deprived, acquaint yourself with some of the excellent rebloggers and commentators out there. The new media field is blessed with some excellent choices. Skynoise, by sometime Realtime contributor Jean Poole, is one, and you could do worse than check Mitchell Whitelaw’s (teeming void) for a theoretical take on the algorithmic end of the spectrum, or perhaps the digital musings of serial consign by Greg J. Smith, or just maybe Chris O’Shea’s pixelsumo for a game-oriented take. Eyebeam’s series of guest rebloggers is varied and excellent, as is Régine Debatty’s terrifyingly informed we make money not art. Peter Kirn’s staunchly practical Create Digital Motion pushes the boundary between this format and a full-blown magazine. Let’s cast this net wider, though. What is a new medium? River valleys as grooves for a giant record stylus? Satellites as sculpture? For the media so new it may never get around to existing, the surreal technospeculative architecture of Geoff Manaugh’s BLDGBLOG (“building blog”) is essential.

That’s already a lot of sites to check, so the next trick is to make sure to use that primordial blogging trick: the syndicated newsfeed. If you’ve not encountered it before, newsfeed syndication is well-documented - My favourite introduction to newsfeeds is by the aforementioned Jean Poole, but there are others out there. To summarise those sources - Newsfeeds let you “subscribe” to news - that is, you get automatically notified about news updates. Almost every site mentioned in this article has a “feed” button, which you should click to subscribe to it in your newsreader of choice. Google reader is the most popular one, but there are many alternatives, including basic versions build into most browsers. Fire up that reader, then, and and follow our mayfly media as they hatch into being.

Of course, a thriving scene is not merely promethean individual bloggers but requires a network of supporting institutions. turbulence.org’s posts are good value, and their collaborative new media documentation project, the networked book is particularly intriguing for its walking of the collaborative talk. If you are inclined to create the works yourself, the global dorkbot network can help you out. (Not to play favourites, but Pia van Gelder’s Sydney dorkbot site does a good job of linking to its peers in other cities.) NeMe’s organisational reblog is also a neat hybrid of institutional and personal news. On a local front, ANAT is doing an increasingly good job of making something of their web presence a useful aggregation of pertinent stories. And there are the festivals wherein the works are premiered and the interpersonal networking happens - most festivals however are not blessed with the same dedication to an excellent web presence as the bloggers who attend them. One exception is GAMA, whose service aggregates the content of multiple new-media festivals into one less-tiresome search.

Or you might wish to engage with the world of the edited journals and e-magazines… the field here is large, but stalwarts include digicult, neural.it, rhizome, _newmediafix_, mute, aminima and the full-blown academic journals like Digital Creativity and Leonardo. The locally produced fibreculture journal is going strong despite the neglect of their mailing list.

Increasingly, though, the new media action is shifting to, well, newer media. Not just blogs, but facebook or mobile phone applications, twitter streams and embedded applets. The truly up-to-the-minute art stalker doesn’t wait around for the news to percolate through the blogger gatekeepers, but uses their tools to discover things as they happen. Infamous micro-blogging service twitter is an obvious candidate - did you know that you can search all of twitter for new media arts news? (and subscribe to the results in your feed reader?) Likewise with bookmark sharing site delicious. (for bonus points, you might want to hunt out the various bloggers mentioned above who generally use delcious for their bookmarking.) Or get automatic recommendation services like lazyfeed to help you find new articles. Case in point: an intriguing recent entrant to the news aggregation field, spezify was sent to me over delicious last night, and has already shown me things I’d not heard of before.

Dan MacKinlay shares his feeds on google reader and his links on delicious. He is currently on leave from Australia for transmediale.