The DNA of the Internet

March 10, 2009

Whos DNA picture is this? Find out by scolling below...

Who's DNA picture is this? Find out by scolling below...

Surfing the Internet, I came across this neat application called WEB2DNA. Thomas Baekdal, from Denmark, designed this incredibly cool web app.

He was inspired by DNA 11 and the application takes any website you enter into a DNA Portrait of the site based on different criteria; allowing you to visualize a website’s structure.

I recently had a chance to chat with Thomas about WEB2DNA and to get to know a little more about him.

Thomas, good to talk to you… tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I do several things… I am a writer and run a magazine (Baekdal.com). I am also a project manager, where I manage several enterprise level projects. I’m an Internet Manager responsible for 11 websites for one of Scandinavia’s largest clothing manufacturers. And finally, I am a web application developer.

I really got into this field by chance. I happen to like working on the Internet, and I got stuck with it. Before turning to the Internet I was trying to make a living as a fashion designer, so I don’t have any formal background. I just started working doing what I do, and it turned out to be quite fun.

How did you come up with the idea for WEB2DNA?

The idea came one Saturday afternoon. I was extremely bored, and was just browsing around. I had seen Marcel Salathe’s “websites as graphs” a few weeks earlier and was generally impressed. I had also bookmarked DNA 11’s website some months back, and, somehow, my brain started piecing these two worlds together.

I got this idea of making a DNA for websites. Allowing people to submit their website, and I would then, automatically, convert it into a unique DNA, very much the same as DNA 11.

The DNA art is just really impressive. DNA 11 just appeals to me on so many levels. First, it is unique, it is about you, and it is artistic. I was just very impressed.

And for this reason the visual style of WEB2DNA was heavily influenced by DNA 11’s artwork.

Can you explain how the website’s DNA is determined?

It is both extremely technical and very simple. What it does it that it looks at all the words and all the website tags on a site. It then analyzes these according to their importance. E.g. a headline is given a higher rating the normal body text. A list container is given a higher rating than the list items themselves. The words themselves make the gaps between the lines. So if you have a lot of words you will get a lot of empty space.

In theory, each DNA is completely unique. You have to use the exact same template, using the exact same amount of words, formatted exactly the same way to get two identical DNA images. Something that is highly unlikely.

How long did it take for you to develop the application?

Version one took only about 6-7 hours to make. It was a fairly quick project.

But my server was quickly overwhelmed by the response from my visitors. So much that WEB2DNA couldn’t handle the load. It peaked at about 3 conversions per second. That is, it converted 3 websites into a unique DNA every single second.

So 5 days after its initial launch I spent another day recreating it from scratch. I had to make it a lot faster. I have probably spent a total of 3-4 days overall, optimizing, and handling a lot of technical things.

WEB2DNA has been very popular and talked about in various media… Did you expect it to be as popular as it is?

Oh no. I was completely and utterly surprised. I never imagined that it would be as popular as it was. It was something I made because I was bored, on a Saturday. I really did not expect anyone to notice.

The fun thing is that it actually took a couple of weeks before it happened. I published it on July 24, 2006 but it wasn’t until August 7 that it started to see some action.

But when it did, it took off like nothing I have ever experienced before. This was in 2006, and back then baekdal.com wasn’t really a big site. Web2DNA was getting 10 times the normal amount of traffic – continually for several months.

People started creating WEB2DNA Flickr groups. It was featured on 3 online TV channels – and a few months later, it was part of a huge article in the biggest science magazine in Scandinavia.

I was completely blown away. I am so grateful to my visitors that they allowed me to have that experience.

Have you designed any other applications such as WEB2DNA?

Yes and no. I created WEB2RSS before I created WEB2DNA, and it shares about 40% of the code. WEB2RSS is a system that takes a website, analyzes it, and outputs it to an RSS feed. WEB2DNA does the same thing, except that the output is visual instead of textual.

WEB2DNA was, however, the first “interactive art project” I have ever done.

Check out some of the pics below to see the DNA of some of our favorite websites.

DNA 11
-DNA 11

The Art of Elysium
-The Art of Elysium

Charity : Water
-Charity: Water

CNN.com
-CNN.com

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