Web Strands

HTML5 Poems of a Single Line
(No More than 128 Bytes)

Nick Montfort ◊ nickm.com

Web Strands consists of half a dozen extremely tiny Web pages, each a computational poem driven by JavaScript. These are visual and sound poems, three of each, rather than more traditional ones.

I’ve written a blog post about my poetics (or poetix), explaining why I write short computational poems of any sort. Let me address, then, this 128 byte limit. Those who care most about writing aesthetic computer programs of small size (“sizecoders”) usually consider powers of two to define different categories of work: Programs of at most 256 bytes, 128 bytes, 64 bytes, etc. This has to do with the organization of computer memory, the page size on 8-bit computers (it’s 256 bytes), and other things that are somewhat esoteric. Because these limits are traditional in this context, I’m adopting one of them for this project.

Credit where credit is due: As of early 2024, there were three released works of aesthetic HTML5/JavaScript that fit into the smaller 64 byte category. The earliest is Thread JS by Mathieu “p01” Henri (2013). When the mouse is wiggled, this one draws a maze-like pattern, using two diagonal line characters, similar to that of the Commodore program 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. Then there’s JScripinski by HellMood of the demoscene group DESiRE (2018). It produces an SVG image of a Sierpiński triangle using the underscore (_) and the number sign (#). Finally, While(Heart)Break by KilledByAPixel (2024) fills the browser with scattered hearts and black squares, although it doesn’t work for me on Linux in either Firefox or Chrome. These three aesthetic programs all use typographical symbols of some sort. Although they were all offered as demoscene productions, I’m glad to claim them as visual poems, too.

Web Strands is part of the online exhibition at the online Electronic Literature Organization Conference and Media Arts Festival: (Un)linked, July 18-21, 2024. It was presented in draft format in the open mic/open mouse at WordHack in Brooklyn on February 15, 2024. Thanks to the WordHack audience for seeing and hearing these, and for the encouragement! Thanks to Flourish Klink and my remote vowel correspondent, Christian Bök, for detailed responses to these pieces and some others that didn’t make the cut.

Of the six Web Strands,“Impressions” is based on one of the twenty-one poems/artworks, “Wedge,” in my installation Process Pages (2022), which mainly explores the non-alphabetic corners of Unicode. I further developed “Wedge” into a version of “Impressions” released at the online demoparty Lovebyte 2024. The version of “Impressions” presented here is a refinement of that one, with the glyphs centered in the viewport.

—Nick Montfort
May 2024