AMSTERDAM - It’s free and open 24/7 all year long. Online, of course. What did you expect from the first-ever museum entirely dedicated to the Web? Its three founders, who come from the Dutch advertising industry, officially opened The Big Internet Museum in December.
“We came up with the idea in a traffic jam, as we were talking about the hyper-exponential development of current technologies affecting the Internet. Our children won’t probably even know what a progress bar is, on their computers. We had the idea of preserving that history into a museum,” says co-founder Joeri Bakker, still baffled that no one else had thought of this easy way of immortalizing the Web before.
Together with Dani Polak and Joep Drummen, Bakker conceived of a virtual institution in the spirit of traditional museums. The collection spreads over seven wings: from the technological to the recreational, from the historical to the social. There had to be a tight scenography as well as a delicate, selective process to sort what deserved to appear as bonafide Internet history.
“Our walls at the office turned yellow from the post-it notes, we needed a long brainstorming session to classify the “items.” The hardest part was ruling out the popular items in favor of the things that still have an indisputable impact on the web. We didn’t want to flood the museum, but just allow the user to roam the exhibition as freely and easily as possible,” explains Bakker.
There is a chronological arrow that helps the viewer avoid the risk of getting lost or distracted.
Let’s begin a tour. In the hall sits a picture of Paul Otlet, Belgian jurist and librarian who had the earliest idea of what the Internet came to be, long before the first computer, in 1934. Otlet was the father of documentation, and inventor of the world’s first universal selective bibliography, a network of books anyone could read from home using telecommunications.
We travel through time using our mouse: tribute to the first email in 1972, birth year of the now universal “@.” In 1991 came the first webcam thanks to the coffee maker of an IT lab in Cambridge University. Four years later came Altavista, the ancestor of our common search engines, then came the “smart” era with the rise of Google and Skype. We can’t forget the online sensations, from the first edited videos to the South Korean singer Psy and his one billion views on Youtube.
How long do visitors spend in this museum? “The average time spent in one visit is 2:30 minutes. Which means people randomly browse through the collection,” reckons Bakker. You can choose your favorite room, from strictly technical areas to more mass topics, and some just for the laughs. We see a familiar face inside: the emoticon. We learn that the online history of the famous smile goes back to 1982, but two points with a parenthesis also appeared in the speech of Abraham Lincoln in 1862, unless it’s a typo.
The descriptions are clear, and redirect the user to the source websites for further investigation. Nothing more logical than a Web museum relying on hyperlinks, which are also explained. One thing leading to another, page after page, the promenade within the quirky walls of the museum turns into a swim into the sea of internet. That way, the Big Internet Museum pays an ultimate tribute to its subject.
And then there is the web's natural spirit of sharing: visitors can be curators if they suggest items worthy of being shown, which then are voted on to determine which of those shall stay in the permanent exhibition.
Joeri Bakker talks about future exhibitions, but he really wants to visit the museum with his grandchildren. Who knows what his website will be like at that time, given how fast technology goes today.