Ulla-Maaria Koivula
12 min readApr 28, 2020

For most of my working life, I’ve been interested in finding new ways to connect the things in our physical environment to more information about them. After doing a masters in product development and international marketing, I joined a PhD program at the University of Helsinki to get a broader and deeper perspective on how and why we make and build things. Then I dropped out to build the Internet of Meaningful Things, and change the way we use images to navigate between the physical and digital worlds.

Developing, not only new technology, but a new way for people to interact with images, has been a journey through and towards the unknown. Here is my story of how I started ThingLink and built a team for making the world more accessible with a layer of links on top of it.

Phase 1: Hyperlinks and the problem of the Invisible Tail

In 2005 the Internet was changing in fundamental ways. It was the dawn of personal publishing: anyone could start their own blog, and link to another resource on the Internet by writing <a href=”https://www.any">Link Name</a>.

At this time, I was a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, trying to make sense of activity theory, actor network theory, Vygotsky, Marx, and the markets. It was all very exciting. Personal publishing was about to get more personal; people were sharing links and photos about the articles they read, people they met, even food they ate. Everybody and every thing was becoming searchable.

The more I thought about it, the more fascinating this all seemed. It seemed that people and things on the Internet were becoming equal, and the links between them were becoming visible.

There was just one problem: referring to anything online required a unique identifier, a universal product code, or at least a URL address, and the only things that had this was new mass produced stuff on Amazon. Without an identifier, one could not link to an object and the search engines wouldn’t find it. Without a unique link, a piece of art, design, or…



Ulla-Maaria Koivula

Founder & CEO of ThingLink, education technology company for building visual learning environments in the cloud. Winner of UNESCO ICT in Education Prize.