Index for X: An Experiment in Mass Collaboration

Project: Index for X and the Origin of Fires
Date: Spring, 2006
Project Link: 

I was lucky enough to be asked to build a piece for the Winter issue of Born Magazine. The poem, Index for X and the Origin of Fires is a truly beautiful work by Ander Monson.

What I wanted to avoid in this project was forcing the reader into one particular interpretation of the poem. I think the beauty of verse lies in its ability to speak in different ways to different readers.

With that in mind, I built a semi-intelligent engine for this project that interprets the poem by accessing the massive database of images that is Flickr. Images are gathered for each line of the poem, and are displayed semi-randomly, appearing just long enough to register and then fading again into the background. As the viewer progresses through the poem, a collage of images is present in their memory – enough, along with the poem itself to build a unique interpretation of the work.


This 'collective interpretation' changes in two ways: First, because Flickr is constantly being updated and because the engine is stochastic, you will never see the same set of images twice. Second, because Flickr users can tag images with the word 'indexx' to have them appear more often in the project, the generated compositions will (hopefully) become more focused over time. 

Index for X was 

One thought on “Index for X: An Experiment in Mass Collaboration”

  1. "I think the beauty of verse lies in its ability to speak in different ways to different readers."

    That statement is very true and I feel that it is the mark of just about all great writing. I myself have written many poems over the years – even though I have not put pen to paper recently due to a lack of real inspiration. The thing I liked to do most and the thing that I liked to read most where those vague lines that always seemed to open up a world of possibility other than give a direction to the reader to follow. When enjoying reading, especially in the case of poetry, I think that most often the reader should be allowed to form their own ideas and images from the words they read, even when it is prepared by another hand.

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