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Fascinating Online Artefact History of The Internet

A new online museum explores the digital artefacts that defined the internet’s early days.

Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee launched the first website and created the first web browser | Wikipedia

The internet has come a long way since the World Wide Web became publicly available in the 1990s. Now, a new virtual museum with a catalog of 57 internet 'artefacts' demonstrates just how far.

Neal Agarwal, 25, created the site, which functions as both a history lesson and a memorial to the internet’s early days. For internet users of the late 1990s and early 2000s, many of the selected items will come with a heavy dose of nostalgia. For the younger audience, they can discover what life was like on the web in the early days.

Agarwal’s earliest internet artefact is a 1977 map of ARPANET, the internet’s precursor. The site also features important origin stories, such the first recorded use of “LOL” in 1989 or the birth of the emoticon in 1982.

One of the featured artefacts is a 1994 Today Show segment in which the bewildered hosts try to understand the mysterious new technology, debating whether the “@” symbol meant “at,” “about” or “around.”

“What is internet, anyway?” asked co-host Bryant Gumbel. “Do you write to it, like mail?”

At the time only 20 million people worldwide were using the internet, with less than half of that having an email account. Just 10 years after this news segment aired, the number of internet users would reach more than a billion. As of October 2023, there were 5.3 billion internet users worldwide, which amounted to 66 percent of the global population, according to Statista.

The new online museum is a fascinating timeline of key moments from 1977 to 2007 - when Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone. “It forced a redesign of web interfaces to become responsive and minimalistic,” writes Agarwal. “Flash began a slow death as it wasn’t supported. Social media went mobile-first, and became all-encompassing.” Adding: “An era of the internet had ended, and a new one began.”

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