As It Happens

How more than 1 million people came together and created Reddit's 'Place' masterpiece

More than one million people collaborated and competed to create this work of internet art one pixel at a time.
A Canadian flag and the words 'O Canada 150' appear in the massive online Reddit art collaboration known as 'Place.' (Reddit )

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Josh Wardle calls his Reddit brainchild "a screenshot of the Internet at this moment in time."

Called Place, the March 31-April 1 social experiment allowed anyone to help fill in a large blank canvas over the course of 72 hours, one pixel at a time. 

"In order to foster collaboration, you could place a tile, but then you had to wait five minutes to place another one," Wardle, senior product manager at Reddit, told As It Happens host Carol off.

The final result, he said, was "kind of a visual cacophony."

This is what more than one million people created in 72 hours. (Reddit )

"So there were a lot of internet culture references and memes, but also it reflects the kind of collaborative nature of the internet," Wardle said.

"We saw country flags and these different groups working together ... Overall, it's like a super positive depiction of the internet."

David Bowie and Pink Floyd were among the musicians featured in Place. (Reddit )

Working together

Wardle says the goal of Place was to get people who normally wouldn't interect to work together — and it succeeded, big time.

Teams formed to create different images on the canvas. The prominent Mona Lisa at the centre took hundreds of people to create, he said.

It took more than 100 people to make this rendition of Mona Lisa. (Reddit )

"They decided to start with the face first because they identified that the face would be recognizable and other people would be like, 'Oh I get it!' and then they would be able to start collaborating. Whereas if they started with, like, the edges or the border, it would be really hard for a casual observer to jump in and start participating."

Working against each other 

Another key component of the project was that anyone could draw over somebody else's tiles, which created a competitive element.

"This kind of piece existed over time, so it was constantly changing. What we see at the end isn't, you know, the logical progression. There were a bunch of things that were created and then disappeared at the end," Wardle said.

Warring factions competed to express their creative visions in the limited space.

"There was a very early movement called The Blue Corner. There was a simple directive: paint blue," Wardle said.

"But what happened is they ended up overriding a lot of other art that had been drawn and they felt bad about this, and kind of came to terms and invited the other communities to come back and draw over this blue area."

The Blue Corner obliterated other Redditors' work before subsiding into a small little rectangle. (Reddit )

"There was this kind of nihilistic group called The Black Void who, their philosophy was that nothingness was ... the purest expression of the canvass. They kind of had these black tendrils that kind of extended out of the canvas," he said. "Most of the communities kind of fought back against The Black Void."

Early on, a group called The Black Void, expressed their nihilistic viewpoint with sprawling black tendrils. (Reddit )

You might expect a bunch of anonymous people on the internet to create something filled with pornography and hate symbols, but the end result is — for the most part — pretty positive. 

"The canvas was actually self-policed," Wardle said. 

"So there were instances where people tried to draw kind of unvfavourable images. Often people would report them to us and we'd go and look and those images had just been eradicated by the community, which was, like, a super positive and heartwarming experience.

"We trusted this thing to the internet community, to the Reddit community, and they did something really positive with it, which was amazing."

Some Redditors re-created Van Gogh's Starry Night. (Reddit )