Discussion about the spinplant

On: October 15, 2007
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About Laura van der Vlies
Laura van der Vlies is currently a New Media master student at the University of Amsterdam. After finishing the New Media bachelor program and finishing the propedeuse year CMD at the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam, this is the year to finally really learn the inside of new media today. This summer I participated in the Digital Methods Initiative. This really made me learn to use knowledge in a different way. With interests in the topic of journalism on the web and certain forms of censorship I hope to make valuable contributions to this blog.


On October 1st Geert Lovink posted a previous blogpost about the spinplant on the Nettime mailinglist. This was the beginning of what turned out to become a sprawling discussion. This is a summary of the original post, the discussion and the remaining questions.

Wikipedia’s ‘alertness’ was tested by posting an article about a fantasy-plant, the spinplant. The article was removed in less than two hours, which means that the system is working pretty well when it comes to removing fake articles. But the article was removed because the Wikipedia editor in question couldn’t find anything about the spinplant using Google. The question posed was whether Google was being given too much authority. Jos Horikx corrected the question: it should be whether a research of hits via Google is enough to judge the truth of an article on Wikipedia. He argued that an article on Wikipedia should, as a rule, be supported by its own resources in the first place. Patrice Riemens agreed with him, encouraging the use of Wikipedia and Google as useful instruments, but not to see them as solid fundaments for knowledge.

More reactions inspired Hendrik-Jan Grievink to write down his take on knowledge and its increasing fragmentation through the use of Wikipedia and Google. He also mentions the distinction between a literary culture and a culture of images. Grievink says that in a culture shaped by images, we have to search for knowledge whereas in a culture dominated by the written word one must ask for knowledge. Andreas Jabobs reacted to this statement, saying that knowledge and images are not comparable. He argued that knowledge no longer gets ‘stored’ in human memory. Active knowledge is lost due to the increased use of images as a collection of knowledge. But Grievink responds that he does not equate knowledge and image, he only points at the fact that images are taken more and more as bearers of knowledge.

Theo Ploeg wonders whether Jacobs sees a difference between contact with reality via language on the one hand and image on the other. After this he continues with the connection between the existence of things and persons and their presence on the www.

As a reaction to this whole discussion the first real spinplant is born on the web. Elout made a spinplant in Sculptypaint, an opensource 3Dmodel creation tool. These models can be imported to for example Secondlife.

And Grievink reacts with a dictionary-discription of the spinplant [in Dutch]:

spin·plant (de ~)
1 fictieve plantensoort, ontdekt door Laura van der Vlies
2 neologisme dat nog wacht op indexering door GoogleNu maar water geven en wachten tot het woord “spinplant” uitgroeit tot een volwaardige internet meme, wellicht dat zij dan over enige tijd tot het Google-lexicon behoort. En dan komt het met de spinplant in Wikipedia ook wel goed! Heeft Laura via een omweg toch nog een bevredigend resultaat van haar experiment. Kan ze haar volgende onderzoek mee starten. Dat vereist wel wat medewerking van ons: een blogje hier, een onderzoekje daar, lezinkje zo, filmpje zus. Zo doen we dat: kennisproductie in de mediasfeer. Overigens, wanneer we deze status bereiken met dit virtuele stukje flora dan is de spinplant uiteraard geen spinplant meer, maar een officieel erkend woord der Nederlandse Taal. Wie was Van Dale ook alweer? Dat zal nog wel even duren, tot die tijd blijft de spinplant gewoon een spinplant!

De Spinplant is dood, leve de spinplant!

The discussion continued when one of the Masters of Media contributers, Michael Stevenson, reacted with a blogpost titled ‘Making the spinplant relevant: more from Friedrich Nietzsche‘. With this post he tried, with some help from Nietzsche, to change the terms of the debate, (jokingly?) asking whether truth is really ‘prior’ to relevance at all. He has asked readers to help make the spinplant more relevant by linking to the non-existing Spinplant article on Wikipedia [http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinplant] and to two pages that were made to make the spinplant visible on the World Wide Web.

This post brought up more discussion, but also some confusion. Readers of the blogpost thought the aim was to put the spinplant back on Wikipedia again. But that isn’t the case. It is only to show the relationship between web-truth and relevance.

In any case, the story about the spinplant is not over yet.

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