When Reddit unleashed the internet on a blank canvas earlier this month, they shockingly filled it with collaborative art, rather than crudely drawn dicks. The results were so surprising, it compelled a programming student to find out the story behind the art pieces, so he found a way to preserve them all.
"When you hear that we unleashed the entire internet on a blank canvas and they can draw anything they want, you think 'oh, this can't end well,'" said Roland Rytz, a 24-year old computer science student at the Bern University of Applied Sciences. "I was really impressed by the art and the degree of collaboration between everyone."
Rytz told me he's always looking for new projects to expand his programming skills, so he built an interactive map of the canvas with annotations for each design. He calls it the r/place "atlas," and it allows users to submit backstories for each piece of art on the canvas.
He published the atlas right after r/place stopped editing, and has seen received more than 2,000 entries. It not only gives an explanation for what each image represents, but also tells the history of how parts of the canvas were disputed territory, while others demonstrated collaboration.
One canvas was the center of a feud between r/France and r/de over which country's flag should take up the space. Eventually, according to Rytz's atlas, the two subreddits decided to compromise, and drew the flag of the European Union, with a dove of peace in the center.
The atlas also documents the history of the "void:" black pixels that took over various parts of the canvas. In one area, the void nearly won, but was replaced by the prism from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album before r/place ended.
Rytz said he originally would fact-check every entry, but soon got overwhelmed with the information. Fortunately, he said the tool ends up getting checked by other users, similar to Wikipedia, so any wrong information is usually corrected quickly. He told me the site has drawn half a million visitors so far.
Rytz is now working on a tool that demonstrates what people with color blindness see when looking at colored images, and a 3D imaging tool that let's you view 2D MRI brain images as interactive 3D models.
"I like to find projects that sound like fun or people can get some use out of it," Rytz said. "It's just for fun."
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