Surrender to a Digital Archive of Physical Junk

From candy wrappers to ancient artifacts, Thngs is a place for preserving the data of stuff.

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May 19 2016, 2:35pm

The Spice Girls branded Spice Cam instant film camera by Polaroid, circa 1997. Photo courtesy of Thngs.

Today every tweet is archived, every Facebook selfie stashed and cached, every arts/tech/culture blog mirrored, and the idea of the permanence of data is taken for granted. But things like physical objects aren’t permanent. They break down, melt, or are tossed in the trash, and could potentially disappear from public consciousness forever, leaving behind but a foggy memory. Thngs, a digital database for the preservation of physical objects, wants to change that. Billing itself as “A place for everything,” this new system allows users to interact with objects old and new, whether they be a bust of Emperor Vitellius from the 1800s, or the Spice Girls-branded Polaroid Spice Cam from 1997.

The Oliver 4 typewriter, produced in Chicago in 1900 with foreign language keys for foreign markets. Photo copyright Moscow Polytechnic Museum. Photo courtesy of Thngs.

Thngs co-founder Dima Dewinn comes from a background in social design and architecture, but quickly became interested in the preservation of physical items. Calling in from Moscow, Dewinn explains, “We were learning for a long time about the philosophy of the preservation of an entity. About all the things that we are surrounding ourselves with. All the things that we adore, we don’t know much about them because there’s no such thing as a Wikipedia of things.” So Dewinn set out “to make a tool that would preserve and structurize data of the material world. And we wanted to make it sexy.”

Prototype for the iPhone 4, circa 2009, featuring a touch screen taped to a motherboard. Photo courtesy of Thngs.

And sexy for the data- and ephemera-minded, Thngs certainly is. “A variety of things can be structured by common characteristics, like typology, trademark, date, location, and so on,” says Dewinn. Take for example this sorting of posters. “We wanted to make a service, a place for everything. A place where museums or manufacturers can spread knowledge about things that they contain or produce. And then people can discover things, collect them in their online storage, and discuss them.” And though, in the future, Thngs users can order items they see, and download and 3D print items, Dewinn is clear that Thngs isn’t meant to be a storefront.

The Kometa MG-201 M soviet tape recorder from 1968, copyright the Moscow Design Museum. Photo courtesy of Thngs

“We are more interested in creating the infrastructure for communication of people and the material world. We want to be a place where people make a choice. They make a choice of which things are interesting for them. Which ones they want to get as a physical thing and own it or you just want to save this page in your Thngs collection. We don’t want to become a shop, we want to become a service.”

The Titan II “LTD Pack” sneaker by Diadora, 2014. Photo courtesy of Thngs.

The process for creating an entry is fairly simple, but strictly defined, “We make six to eight shots from different angles, and they are geometrically correct, if you’re talking about perspective. We make 360 views where you can rotate the object on your screen.” By creating a baseline approach to the cataloging of things, users will contribute to the process, and this massive collection of material goods will continue to grow.

Learn more on the Thngs site.

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