After Douglas Davis – The World’s First Collaborative Sentence

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 3.21.58 PM

README for After Douglas Davis


The World’s First Collaborative Sentence was created by Douglas Davis in 1994 and donated to the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1995. Much like today’s blog environments and methods for crowdsourcing knowledge, it allowed users to contribute practically any text or markup to a never-ending sentence with no limits on speech or length.

At some point the sentence stopped functioning, and in early 2012 the Whitney Museum undertook a “preservation effort” to repair and relaunch the project. Measures were taken during the “restoration” to stay true to the original intent of the artist, leaving dead links and the original code in place.

During the preservation the curators placed small sections of garbled ASCII text from the project on Github with the hope that others would “fork” the data and repair the original. However, the Whitney Museum did not succeed in realizing that the collaborative culture of the net Davis predicted has actually arrived. This is evident not only through sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, and Tumblr, but the open source movement, which brings us Linux, Apache, and PHP, the very technologies used to view this page, as well as others like Firefox, Arduino, Processing, and many more.

In the spirit of open source software and artists like Duchamp, Levine, and Mandiberg, on September 5, 2013, I “forked” Douglas Davis’ Collaborative Sentence by downloading all pages and constructing from scratch the functional code which drives the project. I have now placed this work on Github with the following changes:

1. All pages are updated to HTML5 and UTF-8 character encoding
2. The functional code was rewritten from scratch including a script to remove malicious code
3. The addition of this statement

I was originally disappointed the Whitney Museum didn’t place the full source code in the public domain. What better way to make it possible for artists and programmers to extend the life of Davis’ project by learning from, reusing, and improving the original code than to open source this work? Though, possibly like Davis, my motivation is largely in part an interest in constructing a space for dialog, framing distinct questions and new possibilities, and waiting to see what happens from this gesture.

Included software
HTML Purifier

Live version
Enter After Douglas Davis

About the author
Owen Mundy

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply