Image: Matthew Rothenberg
Unindexed did two things: allow users to submit comments to the site, and constantly search for itself in Google. The latter was a suicide mission. Once it was discovered by the search engine, Unindexed self-destructed.
Users were encouraged to share the site, but warned that its discovery by Google would mean its demise. The more attention the site received, the faster death would come—like the movie Untraceable, in which a serial killer broadcasts his murders online, but infinitely less horrendous.
“Part of the goal with the project was to create a sense of unease with the participants—if they liked it, they could and should share it with others, so that the conversation on the site could grow,” Rothenberg told Motherboard. “But by doing so they were potentially contributing to its demise via indexing, as the more the URL was out there, the faster Google would find it.”
Unindexed didn’t do much to hide itself. Much like a Manhattan speakeasy, it was only secret-ish. Rothenberg could have included instructions to Google not to index it, or hosted it on the deep web where Google’s crawlers can’t follow. Instead, he decided to find out how long it would take the search giant to find an obscure site that only circulated by word of mouth.
Certainly didn't expect to wake up this morning to find myself as the subject of a "…but is it art?" discussion on HackerNews of all places.
— Matthew Rothenberg (@mroth) March 8, 2015
Rothenberg, who was head of product at Flickr for five years, expected the site to either be indexed immediately, or languish forever in obscurity. Instead, it took Google 22 days to find and catalog the site. In that time, 31 people contributed to the project and 10 times that many saw it.
If you want to make your own self-destructing site, Rothenberg made the source code public.
In the past, Rothenberg has inserted drone strike imagery into Tinder and created a Twitter bot that crowdsources questions “for a friend.” He is also the creator of Emojitracker, which visualizes all the emoji used on Twitter in real time.
When asked what the point of all this way, Rothenberg directed people to sock puppets singing about performance art.
(Hat tip Dan Nguyen)