Site of the Day 32/12/97

A quality of genius is that it can make us simultaneously stunned in wonder and energized with questions. It can make us say both "what the heck is it" and "why didn't I think of that!" Genius shakes our paradigms, wakes us up, makes us angry, stuns us with its beauty. It may not be perfect, but something borne of genius goads us tosolve its imperfections rather than complain about them. Best of all, genius often leaves us asking more questions than we did before we came into contact with it.

I/O/D's Web Stalker is such a work of genius. It takes the browser metaphor that we've all become so accustomed to and smashes it like a cheap beer bottle. By its design and presentation, Web Stalker becomes much more than an information browser -- it becomes a MetaBrowser, a browser that comments about other browsers. Web Stalker makes whomever uses it stop and think and realize that what they're doing when using the Web isn't, at heart, looking at pretty pictures, lost in cyberspace, clicking aimlessly from link to link. Nope, what we're doing when we're online is accessing information, pure and simple. WebStalker is the razorthin needle to that mainline of information.

So, besides being a starting place for us to blather a bunch 'a hifalutin' commentary, what is Web Stalker? It's a the browser that Philip Glass would write if he wrote software. It's the starkwhite core of the information space. It's a barebones browser designed for textual information delivery. It's an experiment. It's a work of art.

Web Stalker opens to an empty black screen. No windows. No menus. No buttons. No 3-D pseudoeffects with dropshadows. An empty void.

Then you touch the mouse to one place on the screen. Dragging diagonally, you define an outline of an information window, placing it anywhere in the fullscreen space of Web Stalker. Right-clicking in the information space, you get a simple contextual menu. That's where the journey begins.

The most difficult-to-graps concept about Web Stalker is that it isn't a browser. It's a way of navigating an information space, a way of gathering metadata about the structure and layout about a site. Along the way, you can read a particular page (text only), view a structural map of the site, peek into the actual HTTP datastream, or stash a document for later. But all these functions are parts of a whole, and the whole is the site. Let's explain.

When you point Web Stalker at a site, it crawls through the entire thing, traversing links and adding them to its map. In fact, the map becomes the main navigational element. If you want to read a node, you make a new dataspace for yourself for extracting the data, and then drag the node you want to read into the extraction window. The textual information on the page is then displayed for you to read.

Now we'll warn you -- many of you who try Web Stalker are going to hate it. And that's good. It doesn't work like anything else you're used to. It makes you want more. It makes you want to explore. It makesyou think.

So go give it a shot. Shake your world a little bit. Just be sure to read the directions. Web Stalker is so completely different from anything you're used to, you probably won't be able to figure it out on your own. And even if you do, you may not ever want to use it again. But, for a moment, you may have had the chance to consider why you feel the way you do. And that's really Cool.