Tobias Leingruber is a student at the Merz Akademie in Stuttgart and got last year attention for a media-art webcrawler project called “Hoebot”. This crawler was programmed for the student community “StudiVZ” – the german counterpart of Facebook. Tobias wrote in total two bots: Hoebot – a crawler automated to ask users on the social platform for data and Lovebot – a bot that connects people automatically “love”-based on the crawled data from Hoebot. The StudiVZ as a social networking platform for students got much attention in the german web 2.0 scene and at the same time was criticized for having issues on low security and privacy politics. And exactly at this point the crawlers set the point. The works of Tobias focus on networked and browser-based systems.
Timemachine on the website msn.com and Tobias Leingruber
Tobias Leingrubers recent work is focusing on Mozilla Firefox add-ons, with the Timemachine as the leading project. It is is a Firefox extension that brings websites back to the 90s by manipulating the display of any website browsing. This will maybe the starting point for a series of art-based Firefox extensions and a related art-add-on community. Read the why and how below.
Hello Tobias. Please tell something about yourself. Who you are, what you do etc.
I was born in the Black Forest, live in Stuttgart and study communication design at the Merz Akademie with interests in new media and digital culture. I also work for some companies as graphic design freelancer, and from time to time you can also see me as a DJ. It’s kinda hard to get people into music, that is less mainstream and more innovative, but from time to time it works.
You got some first positive attention both from the art-world and the media for your StudiVZ crawlers Hoebot and Lovebot. What has changed for you since then? Is your recent work somehow influenced by things that happened?
First I have to say, that the crawler project would not have been possible without my great assistant teacher Dragan Espenschied and Bert Schutzbach who also worked on this project. The social network bots had quite an impact, not only in the art scene, but also in the hacker scene. I got into contact with many great people, way more skilled in programming than I am. I may not know the names of every famous artist and I may not know how to handle the Linux console properly, but I love what I’m doing, and that is of importance.
You are recently focusing on browser plugins and Mozilla Firefox extensions. The timemachine is one of your leading projects. How did you came to this topic? How did your focus evolved from the crawlers/bots to browser add-ons?
I was inspired by Dragan Espenschied and Alvar Freude’s project insert_coin. Some years ago they set up a secret proxy server to manipulate the content of websites that were browsed at the Merz academy. Firefox extensions can do the same now, but based on the browser. In some point of view, the Timemachine might be even a greater hack than the bots for the social network, because it’s available for every one (and every OS) and makes Santa Claus dancing on microsoft.com or snow fall down on Google.
You told me, that you tried to upload your Timemachine Firefox extension to an extension host. But they rejected your work with the statement that they could not take it – because it is evidently “art”. What do you think about that?
At first I was upset, because I would have to promote the Timemachine all by myself. Even with a extensive explanation they rejected the work, although there are much less “useful” add-ons available there. It seems that some people just think that art is useless and therefore meaningless. But in the end my add-on was downloaded over three-thousand times and made many people smile and remember good times. And isn’t that a meaning?
As my Timemachine extension was discriminated because it was “art”, I decided to build an own platform for artists working with Mozilla extensions. Just to spread the works and to start discussion upon it. I am still working on it, but artzilla.org will be online in the end of 2007. Till then you should check our f.a.t. lab website under fffff.at.
Can you please explain your thinking towards browsers, the internet, software, networked systems?
For me Firefox is a new kind of operating system. Nowadays users can find almost every software either as an collaborative online application or as an extension for Firefox. Offline data and operating systems get more unimportant. In other words: If you write extensions, you don’t make software for Linux, Mac or Windows, you make software for Firefox. It’s the best way to personalize and influence any website and to write cross operating-system compatible software.
Thanks for this Interview! We really look forward your future projects.
Text and Interview: Martin Wisniowski, November 2007
Related Reading on the Internet