Explore the History of the Internet Through This Online Museum

Remember when emoticons had hyphens for noses?
An image you can hear.
An image you can hear. / Digital Art/The Image Bank/Getty Images

If you want to look at fossils, you go to a natural history museum. If you want to look at paintings, you go to an art museum. Because even if you can’t actually touch the exhibits, it’s still nice to see the artifacts in all their tactile, three-dimensional glory.

But what if you want to look at artifacts that never were 3D—web pages, emails, chat rooms, digital files, and other relics that originally existed online? The best place to see things of that ilk just might be, well, online.

Conveniently enough, there is a “museum” for that: Internet Artifacts, created by Neal Agarwal and hosted on his site neal.fun. It’s a timeline that walks you through the history of the internet in notable programs, moments, and firsts, starting with an image of ARPANET—a Department of Defense computer network project that predated the internet—as it looked in 1977.

One salient takeaway from Internet Artifacts is that a lot of internet culture is older than you might think. The first smiley face emoticon dates back to 1982: Computer scientist Scott Fahlman suggested it as a way to identify a joke online. He also suggested a frowny face to denote a serious post. (Both emoticons had hyphens for noses.) Usenet groups, meanwhile, were in full swing by the mid-1980s.

For Millennials (and anyone older than them), the museum also serves as a walk down memory lane. Click the “Sign On” button on the AOL slide to hear that unmistakable dial-up noise—one of many sounds that today’s kids wouldn’t recognize.

You can even watch a now-hilarious clip from a 1994 episode of the TODAY show in which hosts Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel, and Elizabeth Vargas are utterly baffled by the @ symbol and try to figure out what the internet even is.  

Explore Internet Artifacts for yourself here.