As we know, Google is now the world's largest start-up incubator. It is the only company that continues to sow, cultivate, and grow an impressive number of daring, experimental, and incomprehensible projects; often — some say too often — even failures. Unlike Apple, which releases four unbeatable monoliths, Google plays an indecipherable game, putting into play thousands of small projects and countless teams, as if the market were not a battle among armies but guerrilla warfare among gangs entrenched in the niches of any market. And may the best man win. If there is an absurd way of doing business, this is it.
It goes without saying that such a free and fragmented model is fertile terrain for research. You can set your sights high, make mistakes and choose impassable roads without putting the whole company at risk — only a small, independent cell.
In the design field, the full array of Google Chrome Experiments composes one of the most interesting of these cells. It is an open laboratory for the design of new browser features, where you can view 3D car models, draw faces, map world statistics, simulate liquids or do anything else you can imagine. Of course all of this is done with open technologies and no software, except for a browser or a mobile phone.
At the London Science Museum, this set of experiments has found a physical home. After an initial proposal by Google, the company and the museum worked together to shape Web Lab, an exhibition that materialises inside the museum's basement, as well as online. Since these experiments live inside monitors, it isn't easy to place them in physical space; so the simple — and correct — idea was to present five new prototypes exploring the relationship between reality and the web.
In real time, a CNC printer draws a face in the sand from a photo taken by a webcam somewhere in the world, as if it were right there. People from who knows where in the world can play an instrument together following a graphic score. The web's data flows appear on a map that looks as if it were the work of Koolhaas. Webcams all over the world look at strange places (including the model of an airport). And finally, a graph shows the hundreds of people who are interacting with the exhibition: each person represented by a bullet, a triangle, or a circle. Can we call these tiny dots "visitors"?
These "visitors" add up to 2,5 million online, primarily adults between the ages of 18 and 35. At the museum, however, the more than 150,000 people who visited the exhibition are schoolchildren between 8 and 14.
Here is an exhibition that must be great fun to see, but the real catch is that the exhibition is not exactly in the Science Museum's basement, because it can only exist when others create it from somewhere else: from couches in anonymous living rooms. And if there is a lesson to be learned from the web, it is that the existence of things is also possible as the result of a collective and universal journey with no helmsman.
Except Google, of course. Roberto Marone (@roberto_marone)
Through 20 June 2013
Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London