Yesterday, Rhizome hosted the seventh iteration of the Trailblazers web surfing competition, a contest in which savvy web users raced to jump from one URL to another in less than 10 minutes without use of search engines or typing. The rules were simple: "No Google, No Keyboards, No Back Buttons, No Loggin’ In — just hyperlinks and a one-button mouse."
Hosted at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, the event included five rounds where the fastest net navigators (appropriately) received Cory Arcangel Surfwear. One trail, for example, included the start point Sega.com and destination Bad Sonic Fan Art on Tumblr. Another asked competitors to go from Facebook to Myspace, again without the aid of a keyboard. If players got really stuck, they got restart their browser and go back to the original URL.
Writing for Rhizome, Dragan Espenschied highlighted a common theme among the surfers' strategies:
"Every surfer sooner or later ended up on Twitter, the omnipresent social network that gives away lots of data without requiring signup. However, the public streams presented there proved not very useful for finding a link, since what single users or corporate accounts post as links over time is rather eclectic. One might remember that this or that Twitter account had some interesting link posted, but when exactly, and how to go to that point in time, when the navigational unit of measurement is not even time but single tweets?"
To get more insight about the competition, The Creators Project reached out to digital artist Martha Hipley, the second place winner of this year's Surf Competition. She explained that for the qualifying rounds, everyone got a shopping list of three items, and had to find as many as possible on Amazon in a given time limit. Within that round, she was given the item The Very Hungry Caterpillar. To find the classic book, she clicked through Books > Children's Books, and then "lucked into a feature on the '100 Essential Children's Classics'" that included the 1969 book in the first page of results.
The semi-finals got more complicated, though. The surfers had to go from a page on a port-a-potty company that services the Frieze Art Fair to the actual website for Frieze New York.
"In that round, I ended up stuck on an article in the Miami Herald about the art market at the 10 minute mark," said Hipley. No one reached the site in time, so the competitors were given the bonus challenge to find an image of a globe. The artist cleverly clicked on the weather widget at the top of the page and just zoomed out until she had the whole Earth in view.
For the final round, the contestants were asked to go from Facebook to Myspace. Hipley tried to get to the Facebook Pages directory, find a recording artist on a major label that still uses Myspace for promotions, then track from the artist's site to the Myspace. But, she was ousted by the ultimate 1st place winner, Joe Puglisi, who used Twitter's directory to surf straight to Myspace.
When asked for web surfing tips for the layperson, Hipley enlightened us with her digital native instincts:
"You definitely have to think big picture and aim for some essential link between your starting point and your end goal. Sometimes you'll be at the mercy of bad web design and distracting clickbait, but as long as you keep the big picture in mind and stay calm you can wiggle your way out. The web is such a flood of content and options, you really have to have your blinkers on and stay focused to get where you want to go.
But, in practice my luckiest and most fun moments came from unexpected connections, like zooming out on a weather map to get a passable solution for 'find a globe.' Plus, even when it didn't pan out, it was pretty fun going down the wrong path and then having to figure out how to wiggle my way out of a potential dead end site for a local glassmaker."
She also added, "We're so used to just finding things by searching these days, and it's funny to imagine a time when search engines weren't as powerful and the internet was a lot smaller, and you actually had to be a lot more strategic about how you pinned down what you wanted to find by thinking more generally."
Below includes the prompts from each round, as well the list of winners. For more on the competition, head over to Rhizome.
1st Place: Joe Puglisi
2nd Place: M. Hipley
3rd Place: Kyunghee Jwa
4th Place: Nick DeMarco
Special thanks to Zach Kaplan.