“Interface hack” refers to any use of web interface that upends user expectations and challenges assumptions about the creative and structural limitations of the Internet. An interface hack must have a technical component; in other words, its creator must employ a minimal amount of code. By virtue of the fact they use interface, each hack has aesthetic properties. A list of infrastructure hacks whose content is not visual is included at the bottom of this page.
The power of these works resides in the fact that they take as their raw material the technical underpinnings of the Internet. Because their medium is infrastructure as opposed to content, they are functional on the level of context — in other words, their content is also their contextual frame, or the structure that gives the work meaning. Insofar as they exist to draw attention to their own rubric for interpretation, interface hacks leave the user at a disadvantage when it comes to making sense of their initial encounter with the work. One effect of this confusion is that user attention is seized during this time. The period before the user grasps that the “surprise” of the work is intentional, i.e., the time in which their awareness is given to making sense of what they are seeing rather than simply absorbing it, is a particularly potent one in terms of establishing messages and conveying meaning in a busy web environment. Interface hacks are particularly suitable for activists and artists whose work confronts digital issues; one example of this is the “loading” icon promoted in support of net neutrality in September 2014. I maintain that this is partially accountable for the February 2015 congress ruling in favor of protecting net neutrality.
About the word "hack:" I know it's contentious. I'm using it in the Stallmanian sense:
Hack (verb) To explore the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness.
You can read my interview with Ben Grosser, the artist behind Facebook Demetricator, at this page. More information about his work is available at his website here.
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