World's Fairs Make the Leap to Cyberspace

Everyday items such as the postcard, hamburger, icecream cone, and telephone all were launched at world's fairs. Fairs also introduced national icons such as the Eiffel Tower and the Montreal Expos baseball team.

Since the Great Exhibition in 1851 at London's Crystal Palace, world's fairs have continued to introduce new technology and mark national centennials. And while the fairs have lost some of their popularity since being immortalized in movies such as 1944's "Meet Me in St. Louis," cities continue to bid to hold a world's fair, as they create thousands of jobs and draw international tourists.

World's fairs are regulated by the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris and are divided into universal fairs, which are organized to encompass all human activities, and specialized expositions that have a particular theme, such as transportation (Vancouver, 1986). The expositions tend to be on a smaller scale, and the invited nations construct their own pavilions. With universal expositions, the host country builds all the pavilions, and only one may be held per decade. The next one will be in Hanover, Germany, in 2000. As world's fairs often lose money, many countries have been reluctant to construct extensive exhibits in recent years.

This year, a world's fair is taking place on the Internet (http://park.org). So far, at least 5 million "cybertourists" have visited, viewing the technology and customs of 60 countries. Its crowning achievement is Central Park, which contains a terabyte of information [the equivalent of 1 million floppy disks].

"I wanted to leave a legacy ... an Eiffel Tower," says Carl Malamud, one of the creators of the Internet World's Fair. International companies have invested millions to make the site free to the public. Like its predecessors, the fair promotes the advancements of a host of cultures.

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