There’s a strange page flitting around the web this week. Its creator describes it as “art,” and every time someone views it, its URL changes — so it’s always on the move.
When I viewed the page, for instance, it lived here. But that home is long gone: As soon as my browser loaded the page, the address was replaced by a redirect notice pointing viewers to this page, which in turn became a redirect as soon the next person opened it.
The project, which is called Permanent Redirect, was created by Donald Hanson, an electronic artist in the Bay Area. Hanson didn’t respond to a request for an interview, but he described the work on Twitter as a “net art piece” that explored the economy of links.
“Over time the art piece will become very hard to view,” he wrote. “This is an experiment in introducing artificial scarcity into digital work.”
I wanted to find the page, which Hanson has described repeatedly on Twitter as “the art,” a habit that for some reason reminds me of GLaDOS’ continued promises of cake in Valve’s classic puzzle game Portal. I started by frantically clicking frantically through hundreds of redirects, but since each one was time stamped, it quickly became clear that I still had many thousands left before I found the art.
I wasn’t sure my clicking finger had that much life left, so I fired up Python and wrote a script that loaded each redirect, one after another, faster than anyone could click. After about an hour of work, it found the secret page itself — the art, at a URL that no human had ever accessed before. When I loaded the page, it told me that it had moved nearly 6,000 times since it was created on January 5, an average of one move every 37 seconds.
“You are indeed very special,” the page told me.
I won’t describe the art, though you can easily find it on Twitter, because it might threaten the joy of discovery. Personally, I felt underwhelmed, the way you might feel when you reach the end of a videogame — it’s hard for any payoff to compete with the thrill of the chase.
When I loaded the page, it told me that it had moved nearly 6,000 times since it was created.
On Twitter, reactions were mixed. Some people who found the page were let down by it, but others were thrilled. “It's lovely!” wrote one person. “Thank you for making it.”
Hanson’s work often explores questions about society and technology. ShyBot, for instance, was a six-wheeled, solar-powered robot designed to flee from people that he created with a team of collaborators and released into the Palm Springs desert.
It’s easy to read meaning into Permanent Redirect. Links are the circulatory system of the internet, and they’re fraught with issues. “Link rot” describes links that point to resources that gradually move or cease to exist, leading to dead ends on the information superhighway. In “search engine optimization,” the business of trying to boost a client’s site in search results, operatives will pay good money to buy links in order to trick Google — polluting the ecosystem, essentially, with spam designed to fool algorithms.
But maybe Permanent Redirect is just doing what any good site accomplishes: causing people to click around a lot.