This article was published on March 31, 2020

This tool erases web page text to reveal hidden poetry

This tool erases web page text to reveal hidden poetry

Since TNW is a news site, we produce a lot of written text. For the most part that’s all valuable and relevant, but since I look at these walls of text for 40 hours a week, there are moments where they become overwhelming and stifling. I mean, just how much can you read about the exhilarating tech world every day? Luckily enough, I found the antidote to this textual stuffiness in a piece of computational art. 

While looking into Nick Montfort’s portfolio of work, I discovered an excellent tool/art piece that uses javascript to erase parts of the text displayed on any webpage, and transforms it into erasure poetry. That tool is The Deletionist. As described on its website, the tool “removes text to uncover poems, discovering a network of poems called ‘the Worl’ within the World Wide Web.” It was created by Nick Montfort, Amaranth Borsuk, and Jesper Juul in 2013. It’s not new, but it’s new for me, and it opened my eyes to the visual/phonetic patterns hidden inside text, that can be beautiful and noteworthy independent from the information originally encoded into the text itself.

Credit: The Deletionist

The Deletionist system is deterministic. That means there’s no randomization involved. The script considers the properties of the webpage it runs on, and decides on a method of erasure. It has an inventory of methods, and trying it on different types of webpages can yield very distinct outcomes. To demonstrate, here’s us running it on the TNW frontpage:


Before The Deletionist
After The Deletionist.

Awkward after about all the storytelling is especially poignant when the four words are matched with the header images. Obviously something happened, we know that emails and medical tests were involved. But what was it exactly? This part of the story is loudly omitted. The only thing we can be sure of was that the events were in the distant past, as emphasized by the underwritten mantra, ago, ago, ago…

And here’s us running it on an article about managing your startup’s cash flow:

Before The Deletionist
After The Deletionist


This is an example where the visual quality of the results trumps its syntactic quality. A red line separates sparse items into two categories. How much of managing cash flow is about putting things on the right side of the red line? 

Here’s us running it on Plugged, our gadgets review channel:

Before The Deletionist


After The Deletionist:

Are all gadget reviews defined by the er-no duality? Something for our Plugged colleagues to think about.

You can check out more remarkable output of The Deletionist collected in this blog. One of its creators, Nick Montfort, is doing a TNW Answers session today. He’s a computational poet and a MIT professor. His excellent work includes (but is not limited to) computer-generated literature, interactive fiction, and a book about imagining the future. Ask him anything now:

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