10 Questions with Jim Boulton, Curator of Digital Archaeology!

Introducing to you: 10 Questions with Jim Boulton, curator of  Digital Archaeology  and Deputy Managing Director of UK global post-advertising agency Story Worldwide!

By: Danielle Raymo

On Monday I introduced to you an exhibition within Internet Week New York called Digital Archaeology. If you visited the exhibition, which ran from June 6th-9th at Internet Week New York headquarters (the Chelsea’s Metropolitan Pavilion), then you had the opportunity to surf a total of 28 bygone sites on the vintage hardware and software corresponding to the period of each site’s launch. None of that would have been possible if not spawned from a single idea and brought to you by this weeks questionee...Jim Boulton. 

Danielle: How did you become drawn to Internet history and more specifically, lost websites?

Jim: I been involved in the web design industry since 1997 and was inspired by sites like Word.com, K10k and the The Blue Dot. These sites and sites like them wrote the rules and it would be a tragedy if these building blocks of the web were lost forever. The digital pioneers who developed these first generation websites are creatives, technologists and entrepreneurs, all forward looking people, archiving is not their strong suit. A whole generation of websites from the formative years of the web lie discarded on redundant media, tapes, floppy discs and CD-ROMs. Unless, we act now they will be lost forever and the 90s will become a digital dark age.

Danielle: When did your idea for Digital Archaeology come about?

Jim: Increasingly, the online experiences created by my company, Story Worldwide, are built around individuals rather than brands, organisations or subjects. The rise of the social web and the emergence of the app have transformed online communications beyond the website, as such I would be surprised if the website as we currently know it exist in a few years time. This means that over a 25 year period websites will have gone from being non-existent, to the most import form of brand communication to non-existent again. The web has totally transformed the way we live our lives yet large chunks of this period are missing from our recorded history. The Digital Archaeology exhibition seeks to raise the profile of web archiving and preserve period that has so shaped modern culture.

Danielle: What process did you have to go through to uncover historic websites?

Jim: I spoke to my peers within the web design industry and created a list of websites that influenced a generation of web designers. I then contacted all of them and asked them for their influences and so on. Once the net had been cast, it was then a case of getting the code, most of which has been lost for ever. 

Danielle:Why is an exhibit like Digital Archaeology important to the art history of digital media?

Jim: Interestingly, the early years of online creative expression was dominated by nonconformists, very few of whom were computer scientists. Writers, sculptors, illustrators, filmmakers, gardeners, designers embraced this new media. Aptly described by Marisa Bowe of Word.com as “underachieving sub-geniuses,” agencies like Antirom, Kioken, Firstborn, and Razorfish defined the way we now see, hear, share, sell, buy, interact, and participate in society.

Danielle: This particular exhibit ran from June 6-9th, as part of the larger Internet Week. Can we expect to see this exhibit pop up again elsewhere soon?

Jim: With a fair wind, Digital Archaeology will be coming back to London In November this year as part of Internet Week Europe, and then who knows, perhaps a world tour

Danielle: What was the outcome of the exhibit? Afterthoughts, interesting occurrences, or comments from spectators?

Jim: I am staggered by the positive response the to the exhibit. The support for the event from industry, academia, the media and the man on the street has been overwhelming. The web is only 20 years old yet it has transformed the way we live our lives, we cannot imagine a world without it. The event highlights this incredible pace of change.

Danielle: Aside from Internet week, what plans do you have in the future to promote digital archaeology?

Jim: We’ll continue to identify and pursue the preservation of significant websites and with Google’s help, who have been a fantastic partner for the New York event, hope to increase its online presence. I am also very grateful to the British Library and the Library of Congress for their support and will continue to highlight the great work they and their peers at the International Internet Preservation Consortium (netpreserve.org) are doing to document web culture.

Danielle: When my parents first got AOL 15 years ago I dreamed that one day, I merely could sign online without getting kicked off because of a phone call. Now I, we, all have so much more than that. While a lot of these advances have made the Internet ultra user-friendly, do you think that youth today is missing out or benefiting from the fruits of a developed Internet?

Jim: The early years of the web were a period of experimentation. Nothing came before, there were no rules. The resulting creative freedom was incredibly liberating, allowing people to conceive and invent without the constraints of “ best practice”.

Danielle: What exhibit coming up this weekend is an Internet Week MUST see?

Jim: Flavorpill's Culture Hunt on Saturday looks pretty good, getting people away from their desks and out and about exploring the cultural highlights of New York. Although not strictly an Internet Week event, the Webby’s on Monday night are also a must. If you can’t get there in person, they can be seen live at www.facebook.com/thewebbyawards

Danielle: And for the real zinger....what is your favorite Internet moment of all time?

Jim: Wow, I would say Razorfish’s bouncing blue dot. Credited as the first animated webpage, it’s incredible to think that in 1995 a simple blue ball bouncing around a page could attract global attention, it shows how far we’ve come.

A BIG thanks to Jim for being our Thursday Q&A participant! On behalf of myself (Danielle) and the entire Artsy Fartsy Team, I'd like to say congratulations on the success of your show. 

Hear Jim speak about the event here:

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