World Wide Walls

February 2nd, 2023

by Marta Fioravanti


In the past months, the studio worked intensively with stylus pens and writing interfaces on a series of projects. I've always considered writing and drawing as two inseparable activities that compensate for each other in the process of communication: while taking notes I combine words and pictures to create something that ends up looking like comics, or even graffiti. For this reason I love handwriting, because it gives me more freedom in the composition whether I'm working on paper or with a tablet. The more I worked with tablets and stylus pens, the more I found myself asking: «Why can't I just write on top of everything I do in the digital world? Why can't I write on top of a website, as I would do in a book?» (Yes, I'm that kind of person that writes over book pages). What if I could make my drawings visible to everybody, almost as if they were some kind of digital graffiti, truly making the web a public space?

After a few weeks of thinking, sketching and prototyping we came up with a Chrome extension, we called it World Wide Walls.

The web is not that free

World Wide Walls is a tool to experience web pages as if they were city walls in a real street: everyone can draw something for anyone else to see. You can leave a mark, write, sketch or doodle some nonsense, or simply explore the web with a new public layer on top. Technically, it consists of a browser extension that creates a drawable area over web pages and stores them in a database. The extension is compatible with all the Chromium-based browsers, such as Chrome, Brave and Opera.

The web is not that public

A web page is generally a read-only container that we consume in an unalterable form. For all the good reasons such as security, usability, and consistency, we cannot change what's written inside a newspaper, nor add elements in a form we are compiling. Websites creators decide upfront what contents to show and which kinds of interaction are allowed. The flow of actions and information is predetermined and the only places for an intervention as a user is delimited inside comment boxes, like buttons and other carefully confined places.

Obviously the internet would be quite a messy place without capable web designers and developers taking care of all these aspects. However, what seems to miss from our point of view is the freedom of the user to express themselves, to communicate with others, or simply to write something next to a text they find interesting.

There have been some interesting examples of collaborative social experiments on the web. In r/place, for example, each user can colour a single pixel of a large, shared canvas, contributing to the creation of a picture; in Twitch plays Pokémon, instead, a crowd-sourced version of the Pokémons games, the commands are sent by users through the channel's chat room and the final action is decided by parsing it; Studio Moniker, among all the other projects focused in the collective participation in a digital environment, created a multiplayer art game that consists a contemplative and metaphorical experience where the user impersons a fish in a collective pond and compete with the other players to collect tokens that make them feel gratified. These experiments are interesting for their erratic and unpredictable nature, however they all happen in a controlled environment like a social network. We, instead, were really interested in truly turning any web page into a public canvas, a wall or a public notebook and see what will happen.

Writing in the physical public space has different meanings - a signature or a tag is a way to manifest the passage or existence of a person. Messages (political or not) are left on walls as a way for others to see. Street art and graffiti are public displays of an artist's work. What wall you choose, its position and prominence is also a decision itself that people make in the physical realm.

What could happen in public digital walls?

We don't know what to expect as an output of this tool. Will it become a collection of random doodles and weird messages or a new place to express yourself and your art? Or maybe a way to leave some notes in connection to something written like in a library book? Or will it become a way to make unauthorised ads? There might be a million other ways that we don't know and we are curious to see what will happen after we launch this experiment.

So go ahead and install it, then join our Discord to let us know what you think and do with it!