Fortune Cookie

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Matter in Hand

Fortune Cookie is an experimental project which aims at investigating the dynamics between users, images and search engines in the current panorama of the Web.

It correlates two different but comparable web image archives: the first, potentially infinite, one is being continuously powered by users through this site, while the second, actually finite, one consists of images retrieved from a sample of ten image search engines.

And what about the premise?

The premise which led to Fortune Cookie was first tested by its little brother Magic Cookie, which provided insight into how numerous objective and subjective variables1 shape the information Google provides its users.

A picture of the photographic installation Magic Cookie taken during Schiume Festival at Forte Marghera in July 2013.

A picture of the photographic installation Magic Cookie set up in occasion of Schiume Festival at Forte Marghera in July 2013.

The experiment correlated the search results from Google Images—in response to the query dream—of a sample of ten volunteers with Google accounts and their Google Web History2 turned on.

The users’ web image archive

This archive aims at replicating the way a human image search engine3 might work. As opposed to the typical image search engine, which returns a set of images based on the user’s query, a human image search engine is consciously powered by multiple users, who search and return visual responses to each other4.

For the sake of simplicity and consistency such replication is kept on a small scale, that is, all collaborative efforts collected through this site focus on replying to just one single predefined query word: dream.

Why dream?

The query word dream was chosen because it is an abstract term and thus susceptible of multiple subjective interpretations5—a problematic case for image search engines, since they can not know beforehand which interpretation the user is looking for.

The search engines’ web image archive

This archive is populated with the first fifty results returned in response to the query dream from a sample of ten different image search engines6.

A picture of the postcard installation Fortune Cookie taken during the exhibition Can We Please Play the Internet? at West Space gallery in Melbourne in April 2014.

“People who think that search engines are completely objective ignore the fact that every search engine has its own philosophy, every search engine has its own set of algorithms and those algorithms encode the ranking philosophy of that search engine, […] every search engine is going to have different ideas of what the ideal set of search results is […].”

Video, Matt Cutts.

Starting from the unusual assumption that every search engine has indeed its own subjectivity and thus a clear, univocal idea of what dream should be, all clusters of images are treated as collected by an out-and-out test subject, and introduced accordingly.

From virtual to physical

All archives will be physically correlated in the installation Fortune Cookie set up on occasion of the exhibition Can we please play the internet?