First it was a Web site, then a beautiful coffee-table book; now 24 Hours in Cyberspace is an interactive photo exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

"A lot of people still think of the Internet as something used by only the privileged few," curator David K. Allison says.

He hopes the museum's 5.5 million annual visitors will get a different view from the exhibit, which shows how real people all over the world now use the Net in all aspects of their lives - learning, evangelizing, emotional support.

"People think computers are cold and distance people from each other, but this project is about the human face of all of this," says producer Rick Smolan, who sent out more than 150 photojournalists last Feb. 8 to document how the Net was being used on that day. The Web site went up immediately; the book (Que, $49.99 with CD-ROM) came out in November.

"We felt that what Rick produced was something that's a historical document," says Allison, curator of the museum's popular Information Age: People, Information and Technology exhibit on the history of technology from the days of the telegraph to the present.

He says the Smithsonian will add a copy of the 24 Hours CD-ROM to its 17-million-artifact permanent collection (along with the original Star-Spangled Banner flag and the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz), where the information and photos will be preserved for use by future generations of historians and cultural researchers.

"In 100 years, or even 10 years from now, I think people will come back and see what was happening on the Internet in the '90s," Allison says.

The exhibit opens Thursday night and will remain at least through spring, Allison says. In addition to about 60 photos enlarged for wall display, the show will include four interactive kiosks featuring the contents of the Web site on CD-ROM, so visitors can see the rest of the photos and the stories behind them.

"We were trying to not feature the technology but the effect this was having on people and how it was changing their world," Smolan says.

Several of those featured in the Web site and book are expected to attend the exhibit's invitation-only opening Thursday night, including Vice President and Tipper Gore, who photographed the president signing the Telecommunications Reform Act for the project.

Among others are Rabbi Yosef Kazen of New York, who created a Web site with extensive Orthodox Jewish resources, and Greg Miller, 12, president of Tenadar Software, which makes programs for kids and sells them on the World Wide Web. "It's exciting that my company has been included as an example of what kids can do," he says.