What is Google’s place in literature?

by Josh Kimball

Or Flickr’s? Or Twitter’s? Or (shudder) Facebook’s? Or any company currently functioning as media?

A month or two ago, I linked to something called “Mr. Plimpton’s Revenge,” a literary essay that takes the form of a Google Map. Novel! (It wasn’t a novel; it was just an essay. I was, there, simply remarking on how novel it was.)

A couple weeks ago in my feed reader, I noticed a few more items: One is something called Sumedicina, a “data fiction project” that takes the form of a Flickr photo set. It’s a story told through infographics, communicated by means of the popular photo-sharing site.

Another project I ran across is from 3 Quarks Daily; it’s a mini-experiment that turns Google Voice transcripts (which, if you haven’t used Google Voice, are not entirely accurate, and rarely make full sense) into poetry by formatting them and annotating them as such.

(A fourth, less experimental, though very enjoyable, recent example of this literature mashing is Coudal’s Verse By Voice project. Coudal asked people to dial in and leave a recitation of their favorite poem in a voicemail. The recordings are fun to listen to, and include poems by O’Hara, Berry, Stevens, Muldoon, Ted Hughes.)

Of course, the flavors of techno-mediated literature vary. Putting a story on a Google Map, like Plimpton’s Revenge does, takes full advantage of a useful – and, importantly, populist – new interface to get a plot across.

In the case of Sumedicina, the media’s less central. Flickr is mostly just an effective distribution channel. Sumedicina’s at heart a visual story, and could be recreated easily on paper. The infographic format is something, though, that’s succeeded online and is, if not native to the channel, at least a smart and easily understood unit of communication online.

Finally, with Google Voice Poetry, the mediation is more extreme. The technology isn’t just the distribution channel or the interface, it’s the interpreter. (That’s a trope not uncommon to poetry; as seen in avant garde poetry movments such as flarf, spoetry and l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poetry.)