Agree to Disagree Online (2001)

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The adversarial collaborations of Janet Cohen, Keith Frank, and Jon Ippolito are devoted to foregrounding, rather than concealing, the conflicts between different points of view. "Agree To Disagree Online" is an interactive map of an argument that begins when one of the three makes the statement, "In the future, books will be replaced by maps."

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Agree to Disagree Online is a playful work that meanders from "expected" topics, like the relation of mapping or computer operating systems to language and learning to arch talk about Evelyn Wood, Natalie Wood, and Rose Mary Woods. How Cohen, Frank, and Ippolito manage to get from here to there seems both odd (how did we end up with Natlie Wood's drowning?) and strangely natural. It's normal and even pleasurable for a conversation meander. Nevertheless, we are sometimes surprised by where we end up.

From this perspective, Agree to Disagree Online not unlike Muntadas's On Translation (, which mimics the kids "telephone" game by translating a text through multiple languages. Not surprisingly, the translated phrase does not always return in the same shape that it left. Of course, while an itinerant conversation may be merely boring ("We're on the node to nowhere!", Frank exclaims at one point), a mistake in translation can be a fatal error.

Or is that computer talk again? Part of the reason, perhaps, that AGTD O was "translated" to the Web is that it does seem like that's how we communicate, as often as not, running around in circles and then making a beeline vector to a new topic. (or going off on a tangent, as it's sometimes called). Who really wants to follow a single train of thought, anyway?

The difference between the Web and AGTD O is that my bookmark file or browser "history" doesn't look anything like the elegant looping trajectories that Cohen, Frank, and Ippolito leave traces of. Of course, if you stop to think about it, their conversation couldn't really have happened the way it is mapped. We might say that a conversation flies off in many directions, but very few of us can actually carry on coherently more than one at a time. C-F-I must have backtracked at various points, to pick up a thread and continue the conversation in another direction. But that's the good part of hypertext. While "book critics"--to over-generalize--decry the lack of "authorial oversight" in a branching narrative project like Mark Amerika's Grammatron or Olia Lialina's My Boyfriend Came Back from the War, Agree to Disagree Online's zooming point of view coupled with the expectedness of wandering conversations suggest a richness and potential comfortableness that is, well, natural.

Postscript: Two projects that are attempting to build the kind of mapping functionality that Cohen, Frank and Ippolito have managed to do so well with a static set of information (which they animate through the interface) into an interface for dynamic information are Plumb Design's Visual Thesaurus and "The Web Stalker Steve Dietz

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