Marius Watz: Universal Digest Machine, Installation. Java, MySQL (2005)
Installation view | Selected web cam captures Last receipt| Most recent receipts| Archive of all receipts | List of hosts
15503 20050818 12:47
Austro-Athenian Empire - May 2004
92 links, 21 images, 64773 characters, 2889 unique words and phrases.
649: the
379: of
316: to
200: and
187: that
178: is
169: a
169: in
103: i
96: as
93: it
93: not
92: be
81: but
81: for
76: are
70: on
58: an
57: by
57: this
56: or
52: one
49: with
45: no
44: they
43: have
42: has
39: can
38: he
38: their
37: his
36: from
36: women
35: if
35: what
34: do
33: my
32: any
32: men
31: at
29: right
28: about
27: may
27: so
27: was
26: all
26: artistic
26: your
25: argument
24: power
23: out
23: people
22: should
22: them
21: which
21: would
21: you
20: only
20: over
20: own
20: roles
20: than
19: 2004
19: other
19: such
19: who
18: does
18: good
18: into
18: praxeology
18: then
18: those
18: we
17: being
17: comment
17: control
A trip through the hyperuniverse of the World Wide Web on full autopilot: The Universal Digest Machine is an installation featuring a web spider that crawls the net, digesting web pages and outputting a brief analysis of their contents. The display unit is an industrial thermal printer mounted on a plinth. For every page visited by the spider, a receipt is printed, falling on the floor unless taken by a visitor. The receipts become a sprawling heap of intriguing but ultimately incomprehensible artifacts, obviously representing information but no longer in a human-readable form.

Internet space is much like the physical universe - greater than any single person could comprehend or personally navigate. Since the spider is indiscriminate about the links it follows, it ends up in places most human users would never reach. As it does so it reveals a Terra Incognita of obscure web sites, giving equal space to Microsoft white papers, Disney collectibles and scat fetishism. Just as antique maps would be marked with dragons and fantastic monsters where the cartographers' knowledge of the world ended, there may well be terrible and wonderful things lurking on the web just out of reach.

Some expected weirdness regarding the topology of web space was discovered during development. Networks of interlinked fake web sites advertise pornography and online gambling, forming circular references to trap spiders. Blogs frequently feature more than 500 links and 500kb of text on a single page, becoming bulimic hypertexts that are hard to decipher. While debugging the spider it repeatedly choked on American Pro-Bush Republican blogs due to their sheer volume. Comment spam on blogs only serves to further confuse the matter.

To spiders, blogs are self-referential black holes, and so search engines have started to give them low relevance ratings or avoid them altogether. Some observers predict the death of the famous PageRank mechanism, all the while bemoaning their dropping Google rankings. The recent WordPress hidden advertising scandal is symptomatic of the problem. As we all know by now, on the web you are only worth as much as your googlerank, and not to be rated at all is the same as not existing...

Last web cam image uploaded

23 April, 2010: The Universal Digest Machine will be part of the Artomaton exhibition at MediaRuimte in Brussels, curated by Lab[au].

3 November, 2007: The Universal Digest Machine is featured in the exhibition Travelling without Moving at Oboro in Montreal. The exhibition was curated by Susanne Jaschko.

8 January, 2006: The Universal Digest Machine will be shown at Club Transmediale in Berlin. It has also just been featured in Rhizome member Myron Turner's online curated show Intersections.

23 May, 2005: The Universal Digest Machine has won an honorary mention in the net vision category of Prix Ars Electronica, while the Golden Nica was taken by the Processing project. I'm happy to be in such excellent company.

31 April, 2005: The exhibition is now finished, and the spider has stopped running. In the 3 month exhibition period a total of 15500 receipts were produced, approximately 170 receipts per day. Over 9400 hosts were visited.

Universal Digest Machine
was created for the exhibition "My language" (link in Norwegian) at Stavanger Kulturhus. I wish to thank Linda Gudmestad, Kevin Foust and Geir Egil Bergjord for all their help.

The core technologies for the project are Java and MySQL. It also uses the open source libraries edtFTPj from Enterprise Distributed Technologies and the Apache Jakarta Commons HTTPClient. The OSJava.norbert library is used to parse (and obey) the robots.txt Robot Exclusion Standard. The printer is a Star Micronics TUP-992.


Marius Watz is an artist and designer working with generative strategies for creating visual form. His work is marked by playful organic shapes and a signature style of visual hedonism. Watz currently focuses on the concept of time-based drawing machines as well as visual performances for music. He has recently exhibited at Sonar (Barcelona), Virtual Frame (Wien) and Electrohype (Malmö). Commercial projects include generative works for Nike, Nokia and the Nobel Peace Center. Watz lives and works in Berlin.

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Copyright 2005, Marius Watz