Earthtunnel: Burrow below the planet, one image at a time

The first thing I liked about Earth Tunnel is its name.  It sounds like a really cool Swedish 70s prog rock band.  All its members have beards and they have songs about fairies and deep, inpenetrable forests.  So needless to say I was intrigued.  And in a way, the Earth Tunnel I’d like to talk about today is similar: Earth Tunnel is a virtual project aimed at the creation of a 3D tunnel whose ends meet at the end of a 35,500 km journey, the approximate distance of one trip around the world, 500 km underground. One pixel is equivalent to 1 cm.  The tunnel is constructed thanks to images embedded in its walls.

Psychedelic!earthrunne1

As a first-time user, can’t help but being interested, if not mildly confused, initially.  After all, in this day in age, most – not all – Web sites have some sort of agenda.  And sometimes that agenda is commercially motivated.  As someone who writes for a commercially-motivated site, I can speak from experience.  So at first, you may say, “What’s the catch here?”  And soon you realize it’s simple: a literal tunnel of images burrowing around the world.  And once accomplished, it can prove that we, the users, are able to build something together in the same direction.  The purity is refreshing. There’s no limit to how many pictures you can upload, and there are supporting Twitter and Facebook pages that help track the ongoing journey.

Meanwhile, the design itself is interactive.  Users are encouraged to click arrows in the middle of the tunnel.  So off I went.  And it was really cool.  There I was, zip, zip zipping through the tunnel, with walls of images on my left (there’s the “PC guy” from the Apple ads; there’s a mid-rift, there’s something that looks like a mushroom cloud) and my right (there’s a strange photo of couple, a huge crowd, and what looks like a mug shot.)

You can basically cruise around forever (unless there’s a big wall of dirt when the tunnel ends?); no blips in the navigation, all very smooth.  And when you feel like it, you can pull up, and click on an image.  I clicked on a photo of the Virgin Mary, which took me to a page with the larger image, and its source url.  I could also click on “I Like It,” and the site automatically added my vote to the tally.

There are other pages besides the tunnel itself, all of which are pretty self-explanatory: Last Added, Last Watched, Most Viewed, Top 50, Random (below), Blog, and Add Picture.  And there’s an additional, cryptic teaser: according to the FAQ, “Each image has a story but that will only be revealed when the construction will be is finished.”

random

Initially the navigation prompts confused me a bit.  I was instructed to click an arrow in the middle, which I did, but then the arrow disappeared.  It was only after fooling around with my “up” and “down” arrow buttons that I started cruising through the tunnel.  So the trick, if I’m not mistaken, is “click the middle of the tunnel, then press the ‘up’ button to move through the tunnel.”

Earth Tunnel, to me, is in the emerging school of sites that attempt to establish order out of the randomness of the Internet.  The most popular analog that comes to mind is Chatroulette. (You may have heard, it’s a site where you randomly video-chat with someone, anyone, anywhere.) I like Earth Tunnel because not only does it establish order from these random images circulating in the ether, but for the love of God, it constructs them into a tunnel that burrows under the earth!  There’s a no-nonsense art-iness to it that I am afraid I am too unsophisticated to articulate, but even for the most provincial user, it’s pretty neat to cruise through that tunnel and become absorbed in the experience, surrounded by bizarre and clickable images.  I mean, really, who needs fairies?