InternetThe Data Drive: Inside the absurd, analog Facebook clone
We talk to Daniel Kolitz about his Photoshop-free satirical website, which launched today for Useless Press.
Though Onion spinoff site Clickhole has recently garnered wide acclaim for skewering the absurd side of internet publishing, our contributor Daniel Kolitz got there first. His blog, The Printed Internet, launched in 2013. Kolitz posted analog collages made with plain old paper and glue, parodying websites like Kickstarter and Buzzfeed with surreal and darkly hilarious results.
By 2015, Kolitz was done with printing and pasting, and his blog was largely inactive. Then, he was contacted by journalist Adrian Chen, who convinced him to enter the paper gantlet once more. The product of his work is The Data Drive, an off-kilter Facebook clone that is somewhere between interactive fiction and a digital art piece. In the world of The Data Drive, Mark Zuckerberg has disappeared, his CEO position overtaken by mysterious hick Buck Calhoun. Clicking through the various articles and links, while navigating overtures from an overly friendly Chipotle representative, the twisted story slowly comes to light.
Working with Chen and developer Sam Levigne, Kolitz created a work of art unlike almost anything on the internet, without even knowing how to use Photoshop. We talked to Kolitz about The Data Drive, the universality of Facebook, and why he’s never making a collage again.
THE Data Drive is Daniel Kolitz project for Useless Press. It was painstakingly constructed out of paper cut-outs which were printed, collaged and digitally scanned one by one. The entire project was created without the use of photoshop. To reproduce facebook's interface, editor Sam Lavigne used antiquated web technologies, like image maps, in order to make the scanned graphics interactive. (See the process here.)
Useless Press is an NYC-based publishing collective that creates eclectic Internet things, published monthly: "We work with our contributors to publish projects that exist outside of today’s endless churn of nearly-indistinguishable online content; that exist for their own purpose, or for no purpose at all." Edited by Alix Rule, Sam Lavigne, Adrian Chen.
Hopes&Fears: Tell me about how this project came to be.
Daniel Kolitz: Well, you’re familiar with the Printed Internet where I’d do these collages. Through Printed Internet I met [journalist] Adrian Chen. He reached out to me at his IRL Club event. He reached out to me in January and told me he was starting this thing called Useless Press. It’s now launched, this it’s their first project. The idea is to connect artists to writers and programmers to bring whatever vision they have to life. Basically the idea was to make a more elaborate version of my old blog. I also had nothing else going on in my life. I agreed to do it. So last 4 or 5 months i’ve been working on that.
H&F: How much work did you put in?
DK: The writing took three to four months. Obviously, I have a day job. I’d say [I worked on it] two to three solid days a week for three months. I did the whole writing part first, everything was written beforehand. The two parts probably took just as long as one another. Writing probably took like two months collaging took a month and half.
H&F: How was working with the programmer?
DK: It was amazing! This guy’s name is Sam Levigne. He’s the most enthusiastic, down for whatever guy I’ve ever met. I would be coming at him with the most ridiculous ideas and he’d be down for all of them. He basically told me to come to him with whatever ideas I had and I will just see if I can make them work, and there was not a single idea that he was like, “We can’t do that.”
H&F: On the About page for the project it says Levigne used “antiquated techniques” to code the page. Why was that?
DK: I’m assuming it’s because he’s working exclusively with images. I don’t know for sure. I didn’t even know that was the case until I read that today.
↑ Work process. Images courtesy of Daniel Kolitz.
H&F: Why parody Facebook over any other website or social network?
DK: Facebook is the common denominator between every internet user. I actually just thought of this but I think it was kind of subconscious. Tumblr has a specific crowd, Twitter’s most active users are a very specific crowd but everyone uses facebook. Facebook has extremely recognizable iconography. There’s a familiarity to it. I try going on Twitter and I freak out. Facebook is much more universal. If I was doing Tumblr I’d be parodying a very specific subculture.
H&F: Where did the story come from? Were you inspired by anything?
DK: I can’t say I was… What happened is I would write one piece then some weird sentence in that piece would lead to the next piece, to the next piece, to the next piece. I would just write it piece by piece and it would expand that way.
H&F: What was the hardest part of the process?
DK: Let me think about that.. none of it was particularly hard but none of it was particularly easy, there was just a consistent level of manic production.
H&F: Why did you create the project without using Photoshop?
That’s how I did the Printed Internet too. So it’s basically all I know. To this day I do not know how to use Photoshop.
H&F: So it wasn’t a statement on anything or an artistic decision, it’s just that you don’t know how to use Photoshop?
DK: I’m being slightly facetious. There is a certain aesthetic pleasure in seeing these websites defamiliarized and looking weird and analog in the way they do. There’s definitely no extreme theoretical underpinning to why this is being done.
H&F: Are you going to be working on more stuff with Useless Press?
DK: I have nothing planned at the moment but we’ve been talking about collaborating again so it’s not impossible. But there’s nothing specific on the horizon.
H&F: Are you going to take a break from doing collages for awhile?
DK: Oh I’m never making a fucking collage again. Mark my words, I am retired from the satirical collage game. I never thought I’d make one again until Adrian reached out to me, I don’t know what compelled me to do it again. There was a lot of fun to be had in this experience but I have no intention of ever collaging an internet website again in my fucking life.
H&F: Well, thanks for talking to us.
DK: No problem. I feel like I’m on a press junket. I had to run out of my meeting at work.
H&F: Now that you’re famous maybe you can quit your day job.
DK: Yeah I’ll become the satirical collagist for the New York Times. Actually, even if somehow the New Yorker was like “oh we’re making a satirical collage article,” I would turn that job down.