“Imagine going to an art gallery, and a painting catches your attention. You walk toward it. Then you realize the painting is changing second by second.” Justin Higgins is explaining the 24-Hour Homepage, a digital project that has consumed his thoughts since its launch in February. “Every second of the day, somebody can upload an image, and once that’s uploaded, they own that second. You can own a second of time, and I’m maintaining this thing forever.”
Guests to the website are greeted with this message from the artist. “Dear visitor, the square above represents the current second of the day and can be used to promote whatever* you want. You’ll see it again in 24 hours. Every day. Forever. If you see something you like, click on it, and you’ll go to the contributor’s site. The project is complete when all 86,400 seconds of the day are published.”
Justin Higgins: software developer turned contemporary artist
Higgins doesn’t fit the mold of a typical contemporary artist. Self-described as analytical, he attended Berkeley to study physics and astrophysics.
During ten years as a professional software engineer, Higgins collaborated on several high-profile projects. He was one of the early engineers with Beats Music before Spotify was in the United States. After Apple acquired his company, he started branching out and working on other big ideas including a company acquired by Microsoft and a political text messaging service. If you received a text message from a politician in 2020, you probably saw his work.
Higgins thrives on the creative synergy of software development. He says, “I love the process. I love the people. I love taking an idea from mind cloud to code cloud.” What could prompt this satisfied software engineer to venture into the arena of art expression?
Justin Higgins’ crash course in sales and marketing
Higgins launched The 24-Hour Homepage as a means of launching himself beyond the borders of his comfort zone. After leaving Apple, he tried his hand at several solo-engineering projects.
He had high hopes for Selfless, his resource-sharing mobile application, but after several years, he admitted defeat and shut the app down.
After the fact, Higgins realized his mistakes. Convinced the network for his product would grow organically, he had ignored marketing completely. “I learned a lot about building things and running a small business on my own,” says Higgins. “But the most important thing I learned was that I’m an internet introvert. I wasn’t doing much at all to get the word out about the product.”
That failure helped inspire The 24-Hour Homepage. Higgins’ project is part contemporary art, part social experiment, and part self-discovery. “I wanted something that would force me to work on what I feel is an uncomfortable skill,” he explains. “I wanted to grow in my ability to talk to strangers and get them to look at my work.”
Justin Higgins and content creators collaborate
To market the unsold seconds on his site, Higgins has been networking. “I’ve been reaching out to content creators—anybody who I think tells a unique story,” he says. “Those are my most treasured clients. Those people were like, ‘Yes, I love it! Let me brainstorm something.’ When you have that many creative people filling 86,400 seconds, there are so many possibilities for what the overall 24-hour movie can become.”
One of Higgins’ most exciting wins was a collaboration with Vinyl Moon, a monthly music subscription club. “They source their music from all over the world, and then they find an artist to do all of the branding and creative packaging,” he says.
A long-time subscriber, Higgins decided Vinyl Moon would be perfect for the 24-Hour Homepage. He emailed customer support, and after several months he pitched his idea to the company’s CEO. “I can’t tell you too much about their contribution,” he remarks. “I don’t want to spoil their collaboration, and part of the experience of 24-Hour Homepage is for you to discover the images as they appear in real-time. But trust me when I say it’s going to be amazing.”
As the project grows, more and more seconds of the day are being filled organically by people Higgins has never met. One of his favorite contributions was a simple poem written in Spanish. “According to Google Translate–my Spanish isn’t great—” he says, “It’s a love letter for the future. It’s a heartfelt message in a bottle.”
The 24-Hour Homepage is art in progress
People are talking about the 24-Hour Homepage, and there are a lot of opinions. “It’s a polarizing idea,” comments Higgins. “For instance, you can talk to business people or entrepreneurs on Reddit who don’t get it. They’re thinking about the project in terms of traditional advertising and the viewership on the site now. But then you talk to an artist or a creative person, and it clicks. They’re thinking of the project as an artifact of the internet.”
The story of the project is an ongoing journey. Higgins reached out to marketers early on and documented the whole experience publicly. He’s been recording his thoughts and his followers’ reactions since the site launched. “This is something that I’m shepherding into the future,” he says. “I’m caring and maintaining it, and if it takes me ten years to complete the project, then in ten years you’ll see a complete 24-hour piece of art. I’m invested in making this the best 24-hour ‘movie’ experience on the internet.”
Published December 5th, 2021