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Handbook on cultural web user interaction
First edition (September 2008)
edited by MINERVA EC Working Group "Quality, Accessibility and Usability"

1.2 Current trends in web services: Web 2.0-3.0

As cultural institutions developed online, information was traditionally distributed through the broadcast model, where information was authored and published by the institutions themselves, and delivered to many users across the web. Over the last couple of years the web has become more participatory, and there are now many opportunities for individuals, in additional to institutions, to make their own voices heard. Much has been written about the participatory nature of Web 2.0, as it has gradually evolved since the early 2000’s. During this period, many innovative projects emerged from cultural institutions – even before the term Web 2.0 was coined9. The appearance of what we now call Web 2.0 brought with it the growth of blogs, wikis, and wiki-like tools that enable end users to not only read other’s content, but to generate and publish their own micro-data.

Rather than simply describing a new set of standards or services, the social tools and the authoring interfaces that characterise Web 2.0 in fact signify a paradigm shift in the ways we use the Internet. The emerging model can now be understood as a multi-channel model, where the web acts as a conduit, running through distributed networks that make connections not only between cultural institutions and their users, but also from individual to individual.

With the explosion of so much community-based activity taking place on Web 2.0 interfaces, it is time to examine the role of the cultural institution in an information society, and more explicitly, the changing face of the institutions’ web presences as they represent the institution online. Further technological progress towards “Web 3.0” may bring with it even more challenges for the cultural institution community. Web 3.0 may be described as a truly semantic web; one that grants deep access to information to the web and opens up portals to new kinds of synthetic worlds. These persistent worlds are immersive spaces which invite people – or at least their avatars – to move into and around buildings and across landscapes; all meticulously modelled in 3D. These sites do not follow the web page metaphor, but instead are ordered as connected islands, where everyone can build their own home, sell their own wares in their very own shop, even construct an entire library or museum for other avatars; all built with the tools provided in the in-world environment.

This section provides a brief overview of the different kinds of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 experiences, and will describe what it is about them that makes them distinct from traditional Web 1.0 environments (as seen in early 2008). The discussion is framed within the context of the cultural institution (see 2.1), and it will explore the ways in which cultural institutions are mobilised online, and in-world as they make the move from broadcast, to distributive model. Through different kinds of Web 2.0 services, we are now able to publish our own bookmarks, upload our favourite images, share our preferred music and video collections – even open up our online diaries – allowing others to sift, search and access our micro-content, while, at the same time we may access theirs. Web 2.0 now offers many different kinds of opportunities for the folk (you and me) to forge new horizontal connections with like-minded colleagues, friends, fans and business partners. Once connected, we can make our voice heard in new, creative ways. Through innovative collaborations we are able to become involved in new kinds of activities that are opening up for the cultural institutions and their public. Against this backdrop we are already witnessing the emergence of cultural institutions who have already staked their claim in their own corner of a persistent world, and, in doing so, have began to reinvent themselves.

Rather than offering an exhaustive report on the technological solutions of Web 2.0 platforms, we focus on the experience from the perspective of the user, and the ecologies of participation. This chapter explores what it means to be an active participant in the authoring and dissemination of personalised micro-content in a relationship with a cultural institution, an institution that has mostly acted – until recently – from within the traditional broadcast model approach.

While other reports have described the different kinds of Web 2.O platforms through a chronological framework, identifying how interfaces have been taken up by adaptation rate10 this chapter elaborates on Web 2.0-3.0 interfaces through the different categories of YOUser experience – placing YOU, the user fully in the center. The term “prosumer” was coined by Alvin Toffler in his 1980 book, The Third Wave, to describe exactly this blurring of the role of the producer and consumer, the newly evolving role which no longer falls into distinct categories in Web 2.0 platforms. Taken with the popularity of peer-to-peer networking, this could be seen as a direct assault on institutions (such as memory institutions) which, before the development of Web 2.0, had mostly applied a traditional, broadcast model approach.

1.2.1 Blogs

The best known of the Web 2.0 platforms is the blog. Having first appeared in 1997, blogs began to become more common in 2001, thanks to the free availability on the network of service management platforms.

A blog is a hybrid between a diary and journalism on-line, characterised by chronological ordering of information: the blog phenomenon has meant that the chance of publishing documents on Internet has evolved from being the privilege of the few (universities and research centres) to the right of everyone (bloggers, in fact). The horizontal network of blogs that are interconnected through the embedded interface is known as blogosphere, recalling perhaps an electronic iteration of Jürgen Habermas’s public sphere of the previous century.

The structure of a blog is usually established by the underlying publishing program that makes it possible to automatically create a web page. This structure can often be personalized with graphics and layouts called templates. A blog allows anyone who has an Internet connection to easily create a site in which to publish stories, information and opinions with total autonomy. Every article is usually linked to a theme (thread), in which readers can write their comments and leave messages for the author. Every article is numbered within the blog and can be specifically indicated through a permalink, that is to say a link that points directly to that article. In some cases there can be a number of bloggers who write for the one blog. In other cases there are sites that are similar to blogs but they are open to everyone.

There are special types of blogs:
                        •     The photoblog (from photo + blog) is a kind of blog which uses a high proportion of images, as opposed to text. Any text may simply be a comment to images and thus be very short
                        •     The videoblog (from video + blog) is a kind of blog which contains primarily video content. Usually text is just a comment to videos and is very short
                        •     The geoblog makes possible an interaction between a map and stories posted by users. Users add written or audiovisual diaries, connecting them to the geographic maps online.

The blog interface may be enriched by the use of widgets, elements that are typically graphic (such as buttons or checkboxes) that facilitate the user’s interaction with the program. They are portions of software that “plug-in” to a blogging platform, thus increasing its functionality.

The advantages of a blog are: reduced initial investment, low management costs, content generated by the user. Because they act outside of the framework of traditional media outlets, a blog tends to offer an alternate voice to the mainstream reporting of events.

There are many good examples of museum blogs, and a useful survey on the take up of blogs in the museum sector was completed in 2006 by Jim Spadaccini from Ideum11. Museums, libraries and archives are beginning to find that blogging can be useful. A useful resource that documents the latest trends in cultural institutions and emerging technologies, such as institutional blogs can be found at the Archives & Museum Informatics Conference, Museums and the Web conferences12, the IFLA World Library and Information Congress13, and similar annual meetings of professionals dedicated to the latest trends in the field.

1.2.2 Wikis

A wiki (from a term in the Hawaian language that means “very fast”), is a website (or in any case a collection of hypertext documents) that can be modified by its readers. The content of a wiki is developed in cooperation with all those who have access to it. The modification of the contents is open and free, but it is chronologically recorded in order to enable changes to be reversed. The aim of a wiki is the sharing, exchanging, storing and optimizing of knowledge in an atmosphere of cooperation.

A wiki is completely hypertextual, with a non-linear navigation structure. Normally each page contains a large number of links to other pages; in large wikis there is in any case a navigation hierarchy, but it does not necessarily have to be used. The term wiki also indicates the cooperative software used for creating the website.

Blogs and wikishave some common characteristics: in the way that updates are managed, with facilities to enable readers to comment, and with a common focus on the creation of new online communities.

An example of wiki is the internationally renowned Wikipedia, phenomenon that has all but swept traditional encyclopaedias under the carpet. According to the definition posted on their site: Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopaedia project. The name Wikipedia is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a type of collaborative website) and encyclopaedia.

The key to the success of Wikipedia lies in the collaborative nature of the user-generated content; the material that is authored by those who know enough about, or who care enough about a particular subject to actually sit down to create or edit the content. In the first month of 2008, according the, there were more than 75,000 active contributors working on some 9,000,000 articles in more than 250 languages. Founded initially in 2001 as Nupedia, and developed through an elaborate system of peer editing, Wikipedia has since spawned dozens of spin-offs, who use the MediaWiki software, the open-source program that takes up the wiki architecture to facilitate thousands of web forums and knowledge bases. Wikipedia is a registered trademark of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, and is covered by the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). For the full history see their official site14.

Museums on the Wikipedia website

For cultural institutions that depend on the trust that they have traditionally received from their public, many institutions may not always find the Wikipedia editorials to their liking. As the ultimate voice of authority of their own institution, they may not actually agree with a commentary from the public that refers to the collections that are held in their stewardship. It then becomes up to the institution to either intervene, or correct the mistakes often made – in good faith – or to turn a blind eye and leave the spontaneous, and constant editorial progressions up the public. Without repeating any specific editorial mistakes found in the numerous institutional pages, and crystallising them here in print media, a simple review of a handful of cultural institution sites seems to reflect that they have not been written at a standard that might be expected of such an institution.

When content from the trusted and true institutions – such as libraries, museums, and archives came to our notice via the traditional print and electronic broadcast industries and Web 1.0 interfaces, there always was a sense that this kind of content could be relied on with impunity. The knowledge that now emerges from open wikis which have been generated through collaborative processes may or may not be worthy of the same trust. Until these kinds of websites and portals aspire to those same measures of integrity, and professional standards that drive the internationally recognised institutions, sites like Wikipedia may not receive the same measure of trust as becomes the cultural institution. On the other hand, a cultural institution, or organisation may well celebrate the fact that somewhere, out there in the world, there are people who care enough about a particular institution to take the time to describe an archive’s holdings, a library’s collection, or a museum’s exhibition.

Some institutions have taken a different approach and have invited their public to make active contributions in their own, institutional wiki. While the strength of the UK based National Archives website has traditionally enabled online users to download their own histories from an authoritative source, here was the perfect opportunity for those very same users to upload their own stories into a public space that is respected by national, and international communities. The impressive wiki interface, Your archives isopen to all, and it is reassuring to see how its complexity was made simple by the intuitive interface. Even though, at the time of writing the portal still seems to be very much an evolving space, there is clearly an exciting potential for remote users to make their own contributions and to be able to publish them online. This can be seen as a courageous stance as they themselves point out how (according to the website) how “new resources such as Your archives are challenging the traditional methods of authorship” and point out how “they allow for information sharing on a scale unheard of before and facilitate the ´democratisation´ of history”15.

YourArchives, The National Archives Online Community of Record Users

The engagement with the public through a wiki approach assures that material is intuitively harvested, professionally structured, and fully accessible. After registering, readers/authors may then go on to create, edit and publish pages directly from the web browser. According to the portal Your archives builds on content already available in the Catalogue, Research Guides, Documents Online and the National Register of Archives. The Catalogue has a link on each page to Your archives, encouraging users to find out more about subjects that interest them, and to go on to contribute their own knowledge concerning a particular record. Subjects have already been identified by the national Archive as worthy of an article in their own right, and readers are encouraged to click on the relevant link, and to upload their own material. This then insures that content/knowledge/stories are directly entered into a highly structured format; which not only extends the professionally entered archived resources, but also acts to enhance, and amplify the archive in ways that inspires, trust and confidence in the institution that hosts the portal.

Your archives is swiftly becoming a user friendly webspace. It welcomes its readers to make their own contributions by urging first time users to come on board, encouraging them make their own contribution for others to read with the friendly invitation: “You may wish to start by making a minor change, such as correcting the spelling of a word. Go ahead and try - you’ll soon see how easy it is.”.

1.2.3 Content in a pod

Poadcasting is s system that makes it possible to automatically download documents (generally audio or video) called podcasts, using a programme (“client”) that is usually free of charge called a feeder. A podcast is a file provided on the Internet for anyone who wishes to subscribe to a periodical transmission that is automatically downloadable from a special programme, called a feeder, and is based on RSS feeds (see 4.4).

To receive a podcast you must have: an Internet terminal (a PC, for example); a special client programme (often free of charge); a subscription with a podcast provider (often free of charge).

A podcast works like a subscription to a periodical publication, using a metaphor: the support connected to Internet is the postbox, the client is the postman, and the podcast provider is the publisher. The subscriber receives the publications regularly, and can listen to them or see them in the manner and at the time best suits him. (from Wikipedia)

With all the range of potential platforms now available over Web 2.0, part of the confusion for authors of cultural institutions lies in deciding which platform works best for their institution. Once an institution has worked out where best to apply their resources there is a wealth of platforms to choose from. One way for an institution to forge a direct and long-term relationship with their public is by offering them syndicated, subscription-based content that comes to them in high quality, bite-sized chunks. Like peas in a pod, these audio or video clips are especially crafted as a series of mini clips, primed for viewing on a small screen on hand-held devices (see; iPhones, personal digital assistant (PDA’s), or mobile phones. The file is then downloaded, or streamed automatically via an aggregator, or feed reader capable using feed formats such as RSS16 (see 3.4) or Atom17 and cast, (podcast, as apposed to broadcast) directly to the user.

An impressive example of these new direct links is the SFMOMA Artcasts program18 when, during 2007, the museum become the recipient of many, well-earned awards19. According to their website ‘Artcasts paint vivid audio portraits that extend the SFMOMA galleries beyond their physical space in San Francisco to art fans everywhere. Download the latest Artcast and hear Olafur Eliasson and visitors respond to his mind-expanding exhibition Take your time’.

SFMOMA Artcasts

An excellent resource for those who might like to learn more about Podcasting in museums may read the article by the UK-Based 24HourMuseum20 and to access the Wikipedia list of Libraries who podcast;21 an excellent resource for the library community. Not only are cultural institutions making excellent use of ths platform, but so too are the traditional media organisations, such as the BBC22, print publications such as InfoWorld23 and of course, the thousands of bloggers who find that their text-based diary is simply not enough.

1.2.4      Micro-content: sharing, bookmarking and social tagging

Moving away from user-generated, collaborative knowledge, this section describes those Web 2.0 sites that can be described as micro-content sharing sites (see

Social bookmarking is a service provided on the web, through which lists of bookmarks created by users are made available for free consultation and for sharing with other users. Categorisation of the resources takes place through “tags” freely chosen by the user. In contrast to traditional search engines that “place” a resource on the basis of the number of external links that aim at it, social bookmarking favours placing of a resource on the basis of its “acknowledged” usefulness, therefore becoming much more interesting for the user.

These are the sites that host, aggregate, and publish personal bookmarks: Delicious (, Magnolia (, RawSugar (, Library Thing ( or focus on one particular kind of medium such as the photo-sharing sites; Flickr (, and the video site YouTube (

Many social bookmarking systems offer subscriptions to RSS feeds (see 4.4) based on categories. In this way, the user who has subscribed to the service receives an automatic notification every time other users add new bookmarks in the category that interests him. Many of them also offer services of social tagging to auto-classify the bookmarks (see above).

The content of different objects can be described with the same tags. The greater popularity of some objects compared to others can be highlighted in some way (with a specific colour, a size or a different placing). The user can tag a blog post, a photograph, a video, etc. and thus facilitate a search within the tagged content base. Classification using social tagging is not based on a hierarchical order of the contents, since the user can insert more than one key word. The more a tag is applied by a number of users, the more the term will increase in popularity and precision in categorization. Main search categories will therefore be created in the sites on the basis of the themes that are most frequently accessed and tagged by users. Categorization thus becomes “democratic”, not imposed from above but from below, and evolving spontaneously.

The term folksonomy, coined by Thomas Vander Wal in 2003, derives from the words folk and taxonomy24. In this case we talk about collaborative tagging or social tagging.

This is a form of distributed classification: the same users that view a content item, categorise it and associate tags with it. The tags are not a priori structured into categories and sub-categories, according to a bottom-up approach.

One of the defects of this system consists in the proliferation of variants for the one term (synonymy, homonym, single/plural use, small case/upper case, etc.). To avoid this problem, techniques such as clustering can be applied, where some elements are grouped together, so that different tags are treated as if they were one (e.g. Folksonomy, folksonomy or folksonomies).

The folksonomy system is used when it isn’t possible or desired to centrally manage classification and it is desired to enable the public to participate in the classification of the content, making the mental models emerge from below.

The advantages of this system are: a rapid, distributed and shared classification; scalability, that is to say the capacity to increase or decrease in scale in response to user requirements; limited cost and time investment for any one entity; serendipity, ease of use; extensive popular following, creation of common mental models.

What is common to all these kinds of Web 2.0 sites is the principal of tagging; the simple use of personal ‘hooks’, or metadata mark-up that is applied to an object.

Tags often appear in clouds (tagcloud), where the terms become a simple way of displaying the user generated tags in a highly visual form. Terms are typically listed in alphabetic order, and are weighted according to the frequency they are used in a closed environment. If they represent your own list of bookmarks from your page, for example, they will enable you to see how often you have used a specific term. The term that has been used more frequently will appear in a larger, or bolder font, and will stand out against the other terms, less frequently used, which will then recede into the background with a lighter, or smaller font.

A further advantage of displaying of your own tags in this way is the ability to share tags with others. As individual bookmarks are listed, they are described by a colour-coded reference that shows how many other people have tagged the same bookmark. This is a great way of tracking hot subjects and popular websites.

Other people’s tags may also be sorted by bundles (aggregations), and by ‘most frequently used’ and you can also go back to trace what other web pages have been described in the same terms as your own by following a breadcrumb trail to back to other sites that use the same tags. In addition, by exploring who else has been using your kinds of tags, you can easily discover how like-minded people are saving, and describing their own web pages and to go on to track a specific person’s bookmarks. In this way you can stay in touch with their travels through the web, stepping into their ‘footprints’ as they bookmark along their webway.

Viewing the value of bookmarks weighted by number and colour code

The disadvantages are: lack of precision, more useful for exploratory rather than precise searches; proliferation of variants for the one term; excess of information.

In addition, tagging cultural content in this way is dependent on what could be seen as the subjective nature of personal descriptions. For example, even within the same language, the tags I find very useful maybe totally useless for you because of the personalised nature of online tagging. This is clearly due to the fact that we do not really share the same vocabulary and, my terms are so idiosyncratic, that you probably wouldn’t even understand why I described an image, or an article in the way that I have. In fact, the premise of a controlled vocabulary; a shared understanding of a professional term, standard spelling, even conforming to the way we use hyphens (or not), the inferred meaning by an abbreviated term, etc. may all be so uncontrolled in the tags we encounter in these sites, that, in reality, my own tags may become totally meaningless to you. Refinements are already taking place, and, as these systems evolve, the commonality, and share-ability of tags may well become more efficient.

In a compelling article on how these kinds of systems can actually work25 Marieke Guy and Emma Tonkin draw on anecdotal evidence to support the view that there is a natural tendency towards the convergence of tags, and that there are already strategies that may facilitate this development. They cite Stephen Pinker in his The Language Instinct to discuss ‘pidgin’ (a combination of words from other languages absent of any stable grammatical structure) and ‘creole’ (a combination of words from other languages with a unique grammar imposed) language. Pinker suggests that ‘creole’ will come from ‘pidgin’ if people are given the chance to speak to others, and Guy and Tonkin argue that similarly social tagging services create the kinds of environments in which metadata vocabularies could easily evolve in a natural way.

Just as a tagging a photo aims at describing the image for others as well as for yourself, tags that have been added by the public in the context of the cultural institution could be just as useful to describe the object, a book or an artwork in a collection.

Several examples of these kinds of taxonomic experiments have been implemented in cultural institutions. One of the first examples was the Steve Museum project26.

The Steve museum project

According to Wyman, B., et al., “Tagging lets us temper our authored voice and create an additional means of access to art in the public’s voice. For museums, including these alternative perspectives signals an important shift to a greater awareness of our place in a diverse community, and the assertion of a goal to promote social engagement with our audiences” (2006).

In spite of this ambitious, yet admirable declaration, taking into account the different ways people tend to describe an object, website or photo, it does raise many questions as to how any individual, located below the radar of the museum, could possibly contribute a meaningful interpretation of a museum object, other than with his, or with her idiosyncratic description of a specific art work. One way in which this may be resolved could be in the context of emergent vocabularies, as Guy and Tonkin suggest, and, as tags become more popular in the context of the museum, and consequently more meaningful, they may well become attractive.

There are now many sites where the public can contribute their own descriptions. The Powerhouse Museum, in Sydney has introduced the folksonomic strategies27 to describe their collections in additional to the museum’s traditional search mechanisms. This would be an excellent starting point for those interested in seeing how folksonomies work in a cultural institution.

Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Tagging online

Managing large quantities of micro-content uploaded by the public in reality becomes a truly formidable task, especially where there is almost no taxonomic structure to rely on. In be able to maintain some sort of taxonomic order over their massive image bank, Google is currently encouraging users to add their own tags to content28. This takes place through an online game that encourages users to “play” with an unseen partner to find similar labels to 10 images that are randomly uploaded for both “labellers” to see at the same time. Participants are motivated by a point system, where the number of points depends on how specific the label is. According to Google, you will receive more points for matches with more descriptive labels. In the image of a flying bird used as an example, more points are given to the labels that are qualitatively more expressive. With the term ‘sky’ you receive 50 points, for ‘bird’ 60 points, ‘soaring’ gets you 120 points, while using the term ‘frigate bird’ gets you an impressive 150 points. The Google Image Labeller was originally developed by Luis von Ahn as the ESP Game, and was licensed by him to Google.

Google Image Labeler

These kinds of online collaborations that take advantage of the folk in this way could also be seen as highly exploitative. The collective knowledge that can be harvested through these kinds of voluntary collaborations can be, in fact be highly lucrative, and while many people are happy to contribute altruistically, they may not feel quite so dedicated if they realise that their input, in fact, may result in someone else’s financial gain. This has, in fact been identified as a phenomenon in its own right, and, has become so much of an issue that there is actually a term for it – crowdsourcing – used by Jeff Howe in a Wired Magazine article in June 200629.

Cultural institutions are acting within an internationally recognized, non-profit framework, and similar efforts – in this case as the public generation of folksonomies – tend to be seen as well intended collaborative effort, by the public, for the public.

These kinds of developments, which are taking place across the whole Web 2.0 map, are more welcome in the cultural heritage world when they reflect the non for profit mandate, however, where cultural institutions are concerned, what was once clearly marked as “institutional territory” now has librarians and curators peeking gingerly over the fence to see what they can “bring home”. One example of this kind of Web 2.0 synergy is the collaboration between the Yahoo!-owned Flickr, and the Library of Congress, which aims to “facilitate giving people a voice in describing the content of a publicly-held photography collection”. The folk, in this case, are invited to help describe photographs in the Library of Congress’ collection on Flickr, by adding tags, or leaving comments on two collections: 1930s-40s in colour and to News in the 1910s30. According to Flickr: “These beautiful, historic pictures from the Library represent materials for which the Library is not the intellectual property owner. Flickr is working with the Library of Congress to provide an appropriate statement for these materials. It’s called ‘no known copyright restrictions’. Hopefully, this pilot can be used as a model that other cultural institutions would pick up, to share and redistribute the myriad collections held by cultural heritage institutions all over the world”.

An enterprising contemporary photographs exhibition, launched by the Tate Britain Gallery, UK is How We Are: Photographing Britain. During the summer of 2007 the gallery invited members of the public to contribute to the content of the exhibition of British photography via their “How We Are Now Flickr group”. It encouraged the public to upload their own works under one of the four themes of the exhibition: portrait, landscape, still life or documentary. The photographs submitted were displayed in an online slideshow and on screens in the gallery, and 40 photographs from those submitted – 10 from each of the four themes – were chosen to form the final display in the gallery from 6 August to 2 September 2007.31

How We Are: Photographing Britain

1.2.5 Social networking sites

Joining the Internet version of a social network is increasingly popular: the network of social relations that each one of us weaves every day in the various spheres of our lives can thus “go online”, be organised into a consultable “map”, and be enriched with new contacts (see 1.2.5). The phenomenon of the social network has evolved both around the professional sphere as much as it has within the personal sphere.

To enter a social network online, you have to construct your own personal profile, starting from information such as your e-mail address and going as far as interests and passions, past work experiences and relative references. At this stage you can invite your acquaintances to become part of your network and they in their turn can do the same so that the circle of contacts increases continuously. The result is the formation of thematic communities on the base of one’s interests or business areas, adding other users to them and creating contacts of friendship or business. Further evolutions come from Semantic Social Networks, which interconnect both people and weblogs.

Social networks can be subdivided into:
                        1.   Social browsing (es.
                        2.   Interest networks (they are based on sharing interests and passions among users that are distant and different by social-demographic characteristics) (Es. Flickr)
                        3.   Action networks (organization of one’s physical activities through a website)
                        4.   Personal social network: limited networks.

While there may over 100 sites that can be classified as social networking sites32(see 2.2.9) we will focus on three sites that have almost become household names. According to current Wikipedia statistics, MySpace now boasts some 217,000,000 members ( while Facebook has currently 58,000,000 registered users ( At the same time, LinkedIn, a site for professional networking asserts that they have some 16,000,000 registered members (

While the platforms described above all focus on content sharing and knowledge collaboration, and make significant use of collaborative filtering, Linkedin is driven more by professional group affinities, which grow through personal recommendation.

Good practices MySpace Facebook Linkedin              

1.2.6      MUVEs (Multi User Virtual Environments)

The Web 2.0 platforms mentioned above act within 2D web spaces and mostly take place across linked web pages and mobile phones. While these kinds of social networks encourage participants to take on more active authorship of the web content, they are now beginning to be enhanced by web-based virtual environments; spaces where people ‘meet’ as avatars, and interact in Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) (see 2.2.11 and 2.5.7). This term refers to online, multi-user virtual environments, sometimes called “virtual worlds”. Modern MUVEs have 3D isometric/third-person graphics, are accessed over the Internet, allow for some thousands of simultaneous users to interact, and represent a persistent virtual world.

In the summer of 2007, the New Scientist ran a three-part special report on Second Life, and around the same time, the virtual world hit the front page of Newsweek. These are the worlds that emerged from Neal Stephenson’s fictional vision of the Metaverse in his novel Snow Crash which have now crossed over from being a fringe fantasy for pure escapists, to persistent worlds - worlds that never go away; even when you log out of the community, and continue to thrive even in your absence. This is a place where users log in throughout the day (or night) to interact with others in play, commerce, creativity and exploration. Second Life is a vast grid of islands where commodity exchange, property acquisition, live performances, real time learning and a host of other activities take place 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Our discussion turns, of course, to exploring how cultural institutions can stake their claim in the new frontier. In order to explore the possibilities, this section will showcase a number of cultural institutions that are already thriving in-world.

Good practices Second House of Sweden in Second Life McMaster University Ontario Musée du Louvre on Thompson Island The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen’s Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden Annual International Museum Day in Second Life

1.2.7      Conclusion

As Web 1.0 laid the rich foundations for cultural institutional websites, Web 2.0 platforms have become far more participatory and interactive. They have not only opened up the authoring of content from meta to micro-content, they also have shifted the sites of knowledge authorship; and, in doing so, have caused tectonic shifts in the balance of power associated with knowledge management. As the traditional wardens of not only the physical collections, but also the knowledge articulated by the collections, cultural institutions now have to pause to consider, both how to navigate web 2.0, as well as how to join in the synergy of social networking. These spaces can not simply be ignored by cultural institutions; they are already taking up vast tracts of the World Wide Web. According to Technorati at the beginning of 2008 they were tracking some 112.8 million blogs, and monitoring over 250 million pieces of tagged social media33. This represents millions of conversations that are taking place outside of traditional web spaces. As a paradigm shift in the way we think about the World Wide Web, there is no going back. On March 15, 2007, wiki entered the Oxford English Dictionary Online, and as knowledge resources are articulated by wiki environments, we too are becoming accustomed to the fact that it is not always the traditional institution that is stewarding the conversations. The trust in cultural institutions that once drew on the physical presence and the long-standing tradition of trust inspired by the library, museum or archive may now be fading when the public, who is visiting, notices that it is no longer the cultural institution who is writing the narrative. However, on the other hand there are many causes for celebration when the institutions open up their holdings in new ways for its public, and joins in new kinds of conversations.

This brief overview of Web 2.0-3.0 has barely scratched the tip of the iceberg on the intellectual property issues that these kinds of collaborations are raising. To do so in a meaningful way would demand a comprehensive discussion on many different levels. These kinds of copyright issues may well be worked out under the ‘Creative Commons license’, a subject already being explored in the context of Web 1.0 sites and cultural institutions. At the same time, and in spite of the tangled web of copyright legalities that need to be worked out, these kinds of opportunities could well serve to mobilize collections otherwise locked in their institutional silos. Integrating Web 2.0 platforms into cultural websites may grant access into institutional holdings in new ways, allowing the folk to tag objects in novel ways, and opening up new opportunities to disseminate rich content across networks beyond the institutional walls.

A recommendation that this handbook can offer its YOUsers would be to simply add a widget, (an application that allows you to integrate other applications in a highly intuitive way) that seamlessly allows your visitors to connect to Web 2.0 platforms with a single click. Users who come to your site can bookmark and tag YOUR institution on the fly.

Example of a widget on a museum site

See the widget at the bottom of the museum page,

This brief overview may have posed more questions than it answered, but, it is very difficult to document the implications and repercussions of Web 2.0 and 3.0 while there is so much evolving around us. This is a challenging time for museums, libraries and archives. As new opportunities are beginning to open up, only time will tell whether the forays that have already taken place by cultural institutions into the new territories have been the right ones. If these journeys into Facebook, Wikis and Second Life succeed in maintaining the same measures of trust, and dedication that have inspired their publics over the years, cultural institutions will be able to extend their activities – that already reach into the past – with confidence and integrity straight into the future.

Roc Fages, Ramón Sangüesa,
Report prepared by -
a project funded by the European Commission
State-of-the-art in Good Practice Exchange and Web 2.0

Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project,
Interview: Author David Weinberger Describes
How Tagging Changes People’s Relationship
to Information and Each Other, January 31, 2007

A directory of web 2.0 applications and services

1.2.8 Annex - Good practices      MySpace                                                                         SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE

Created by Thomas Anderson and Christopher DeWolfe, MySpace was launched in 1999, well before other social networking sites appeared. Friends Reunited was officially launched in July 2000, and Friendster in fact, started popping up with requests sent via e-mail in 2002. Most of these platforms combine a personal profile, blog, photos, videos, chat room and instant messenger application. MySpace draws its revenues from banner ads, and is currently owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Interactive Media. The kinds of exchange that take place between registered members across the networkrevolve around the micro-content authored by the members themselves. This personal micro-content is exchanged throughout the network via both synchronous communication and asynchronous communication.

Museum of London on Myspace      Facebook                                                                        SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE

Launched in the spring of 2004, Facebook was first conceived as social networking directory for Harvard students. As social connections naturally extended beyond the Harvard campus, so their online network quickly grew. The idea behind the network was taken from the printed book of faces that is distributed across campuses. These in-campus publications were designed so that students could get to know one another by reading about one another and to be able to recognise fellow students from their photos. Today, even those without the previously indispensable .edu or .ac email account can sign up and maintain daily or even hourly contact with their own personal network. There are hundreds of mini applications available to embed into the interface. With a simple click you can add hundreds of different gizmos to your own home page, ranging from, ArtShare, Causes, Chat, Crowd Cloud, Events, Free Gifts, Groups, Live Chat, Notes, Photos, Slide Shows, and your own Super Wall to display your very own graffiti – with so many widgets to choose from, no single Facebook page will look like another. Facebook connects to other Web 2.0 platforms, such as Twitter ( a micro-blogging interface that allows you to send “tweets”; text-based posts, up to 140 characters in length. These kinds of sites aim to keep you in touch with your own network; whether you want to know who has been skiing this week, who has split up from whom, or who has just added the latest gizmo to their own Facebook page. While for those who are delighted to share their professional and personal lives with a chosen few (a typical Facebook network can reach into the hundreds), what concerns our discussion here is what can, or should a cultural institution be doing here?

ArtShare is an application initiated by Shelly Bernstein from the Brooklyn Museum that can be added to your Facebook profile. Once added it allows you to select works from the Brooklyn Museum collection, and a few works from the V & A in London and to display them in your own profile at random. The idea is to allow your friends to see what kind of art you like; and if you don’t find anything relevant in these collections, you can even create your own artwork. This of course presents serious copyright issues, but applications like these do keep on popping up on Web 2.0 sites, when members of social networks are as devoted to their favourite artwork in their museum of choice, as they are to their favourite photos, video clips or bookmarks. Whether they enjoy longevity or not is another question.

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem on Facebook

Another way to take advantage of the network is to create a Facebook pagefor the entire museum. There are several museums that have already done so, such as the Israel Museum, Jerusalem who links their Facebook page to the institutional website. There are currently over five hundred ‘fans’ that follow the museum events and activitie, and at the moment the fan group is growing rapidly.

For those institutions who may yet be undecided whether to stake a claim in Facebook, there is an online discussion taking place over a Facebook group that is called ‘Museums on Facebook34 where members are encouraged to share their experiences.      Linkedin                                                                          SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE

Another kind of social networks is those that are framed as professional platforms. Linkedin works in the same ways as other social networks, but the expressed goal of this platform is to stimulate professional networking. On receiving an invitation from a network member, you are requested to affirm them, while noting the professional association that links you to this person. Although this step can be bypassed, by affirming the connection with your own institutional information, you can gradually see how networks in fact are formed across the world; each within their professional association. Members are encouraged to endorse colleagues, presumable to make them more attractive in the workplace, and potential job opportunities are merely a click away. While members may respond to others within the network, any deeper correspondence requires full registration, and with it comes the registration fee. As with all of the social networking platforms, there seems to be some sort of prestige as to the number of people you can boast on your network. In the case of your professional status, as reflected by your Linkedin virtual colleagues, one can only presume that this may help your standing in the international market.

Museum Education Roundtable on LinkedIn

It is of course possible to reject an invitation from any of these sites; the person who invites you does not usually see that they are being actively rejected, only that they are being ignored or allowing the inviter to decide that perhaps the invitation never made it to the invitees mailbox.      Second House of Sweden in Second Life                                                         MUVE
One of the most impressive builds is the Swedish Institute, a promotional organisation which works alongside the foreign ministry who have built the Swedish Embassy on their specially designed island in Second Life. Although this embassy does not issue residents with either passports or visas, it does explain to avatars how to get the necessary documents for their alter-egos in the real world. Since May 30, 2007, the Institute has been circulating information about Sweden, making their representatives available to meet the public during the office hours clearly posted on their “reception desk” in a dedicated, virtual diplomatic effort towards extending Sweden’s culture. More interesting for our discussion however, is the collaboration taking place between the Swedish Institute and the National Museum in Stockholm, which is “loaning” some of its most famous works of art to the Second House of Sweden in Second Life. Why would such a prestigious national institution invest in these resources? According to the Swedish Institution’s website:

Paintings and textiles offering links with Sweden and the museum’s collections will now be placed
in the virtual version of architect Gert Wingårdh’s new embassy building in Washington DC.
The items to be shown in the virtual embassy are among the best-known works of art at National Museum. They reflect different epochs in the history of art and the museum’s collections of Dutch and French painting from the 17th to the 20th centuries.                                                             
Swedish Institute 2007

Taking up official residence in the new world is a logical extension of the country’s national outreach policies and Sweden’s embassy in SL is in fact modelled on another embassy - architect Gert Wingårdh’s new embassy building in Washington DC. Based on the very same architectural concept – and even perhaps using the same CAD drawings – the building can be almost effortlessly relocated to the synthetic world. In addition to the virtual treasures from the National Museum, the Embassy also hosts a photography exhibit from Sweden and a comprehensive exhibition about the life of Raoul Wallenberg, arranged in cooperation with OSA Archivum35, the Open Society’s archives in Budapest. In addition to the permanent exhibitions, Second Sweden’s diplomatic staff present a rich agenda of seminars, lectures and distance learning, all developed to amplify its public diplomacy agenda. Set in the elegantly designed island, the buildings and the gardens have been created by one of the leading SL designer companies, the Electric Sheep Company36 and were modelled according the embassy’s specifications.      McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada                                             MUVE
A highly innovative approach to accessing library resources has been taken by the University Library of McMaster University, Ontario37. Avatars Danu Dahlstrom, Amanda Matzerath, Devi Daviau, Isobella Sands, Gudrun Bertolucci and Ataro Santos (real-life librarians Krista Godfrey, Amanda Etches-Johnson and Nora Gaskin, and staff members Rhonda Moore, Renu Barrett and Derek Bragg) are currently helping visitors (avatars) at their newest branch, located on Second Life on Cybrary City, near InfoIsland.

The librarians are amazingly patient as they explain (in chat) to drop-in avatars how to access resources – via in-world terminals to the library’s website; all lined up against the wall in this tiny simulation of the real library. In much the same way as one would expect to retrieve books, and journals in the real world, fondly referred to as RL (real life), some publications are available electronically, while others (the books for example) still demand a visit to the physical library, located in the Canadian campus. There are currently hundreds of universities that actively teach accredited classes on Second Life, demanding these kinds of responses that allow students – fresh from their morning’s lecture (in world) – to be able to ‘pop over’ with a friend to the ‘local library’.      Musée du Louvre on Thompson Island                                                             MUVE

Many of the in-world cultural institutions are not listed; one simply hears about them from others or flies into them by chance. News travels fast in Second Life, and like-minded people know how to use both in-world and online facilities to spread the word. Currently, one of the most popular new museums is the Second Louvre Museum, where self-proclaimed curator Kharis Forte has developed an impressive rendering of the physical museum, now transposed to Thompson Island. Forte’s ‘physical’ layout follows the same floor plan as the real museum, but he names his galleries and curates their contents at whim. For some this might be a perplexing visit. Professionals who work in the real Louvre might find it downright shocking. For while Forte has modelled his SL museum on the original in exquisite 3D detail; the collections displayed inside bear no resemblance to those that appear in the physical museum located far away in Paris. Forte does, of course, leave us with the disclaimer:

This museum is in no way affiliated with the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.
No claims or representation of being anything other than a museum of Second Life are being made.
Please refer inquiries to Kharis Fortis.

While this rendering of the Parisian Louvre seems extraordinary, considering that the staff of the real museum had no part in the support or development of this museum, never the less, The Second Louvre still continues to be one of the best known museums in Second Life.      The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen’s Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden                              MUVE
The third example of a Second Life Museum is the spectacular Dresden Gallery38 in Second Life. This museum is located on its own island and is a replica of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen’s Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden. The locations of many famous masterpieces, such as Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” or Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus” have been transposed to this beautifully modelled museum, and have been reconstructed, true to scale to include all of the 750 masterpieces in the permanent exhibition. Andrew Curry from “Wired Magazine”39 playfully suggests, ‘if you can’t make it to Dresden this summer, consider teleporting’. While this might sound rather alarming to some museum professionals, who tend to prefer their visitors to walk through their physical door, this simulation is exquisite. Acting in the same ways as do their institutional web portals, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen’s Second Life presence may well generate enough interest so that visitors will actually seek out the real museum, and come to visit the collections and exhibitions for themselves.      Annual International Museum Day in Second Life                                            MUVE
On May 18, 2008 ICOM museums celebrated annual International Museum Day, and this year the theme was Museums: agents of social change and development. In addition to the traditional seminars, lectures and exhibition visits that took place in museums around the world, this year, for the first time, ICOM added a Second Life location for museum professionals to join in the festivities from the comfort of their office chair, or, as it was a Sunday, if they so chose, from the luxury of their armchair at home.

Avatars were welcomed with the indispensable coffee, and quickly got themselves comfortable in small groups on the cozy sofas for informal chitchat for the 24 hours that crossed all possible time zones.

Participants to this event were encouraged to visit the rock art grotto, created by Bjorlyn Loon, a SL designer (Lynn Cullens in real life) who built the rock face, and embellished it with pseudo-ancient cave paintings. This made an excellent locus for exploration, and an obvious focus of avatoral discussion. Tours of the Tech Museum campus were available by a specially-scripted, flying, ICOM-bus which took those participants – who were perhaps a little weary of flying themselves around the build as their still unfamiliar avatar – but who still wanted to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Tech Museum’s campus.

ICOM-branded T-shirts were distributed to participants, and ICOM staff welcomed museum professionals during the event, where each participating museum was represented by a “curator” avatar. The celebration began at 3 am, Eastern Daylight Time (9 am SLT) and continued on for this especially long day with the highlight of International Museum Day taking place at 6 p.m., Paris Time, (9am SLT) when Alissandra Cummins, ICOM’s President gave a welcome speech from the Second Life podium to the assembled avatars from all over the world.

The Tech Island in Second Life, The Tech Virtual, who hosted International Museum Day, was developed by the Tech’s San José, California (USA) with the simulated facility looking very much like the real site. While the auditorium and exhibition galleries are modelled on the real museum, the build is designed to facilitate projects and community connections using virtual worlds as a platform to build new kinds of collaborations within the museum world. I had to admit that sitting down with Mars Voyager, an ‘astronaut’ from the Second Life Planetarium in a fascinating discussion about what added value their visitors could get from flying around their island, made for a useful exchange of ideas. Where else could I learn, first hand about what the virtual world could offer museums that simply is not possible in real life, and perhaps, even more interestingly, what this could contribute to a meaningful visitor experience.

1 “Become an economy based on the most competitive and dynamic knowledge of the world, able to achieve a sustainable economic growth with new and better jobs and a greater social cohesion”, in: Declaration of the European Council of Lisbon, 23rd and 24th March 2000.
2 Cfr. MINERVA, Handbook for quality in cultural websites: improving quality for citizens, Identity,; MINERVA, Cultural Website Quality Principles, especially the principle “User-centred”: “taking into account the needs of users, ensuring relevance and ease of use through responding to evaluation and feedback”,
3 “A Cultural Web Application (CWA) is considered to be every Web Application where the content deals with cultural and/or scientific heritage and its ramifications, and where at least one of the following aims are realised: 1) supplying and spreading cultural and scientific information; 2) existing as an instrument for education and scientific research. A Cultural Web Application is one of the most effective instruments available to the Cultural Entity for fulfilling its mission and satisfying the needs of the widest possible number of users. A CWA must reflect the identity of the Cultural Entity and at the same time guarantee technological standards that raise its quality”,
4 According to MINERVA, a cultural entity is “An institution, organisation or project of public interest in all sectors (archives, libraries, archaeological, historical-artistic and scientific, architectural, intangible ethnographical and anthropological heritage), whose stated aim is to conserve, organise and give access to culture and cultural heritage. Cultural Entities are repositories for basic materials and half-products”, publications/qualitycriteria1_2draft/cap1.htm.
5 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, R. Nice (trans.), Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 217-219.
6 Cfr. Paul Miller, The concept of the portal,
7 Cfr. http://
8 Cfr. Ricard Monistrol, Ponencia Seminario Grupo DigiDoc 24/5/07, Proyecto de investigación financiado por el Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (referencia HUM2004-03162/FILO).
9 Susan Hazan, Weaving Community Webs: A Position Paper, DigiCULT Thematic Issue 5: Virtual Communities and Collaboration..., thematicissue5 _ january_2004.pdf.
10 The Horizon Report, 2008, published by The New Media Consortium describes the technological trends for higher education and the creative industry. This report makes a distinction between three periods for the adoption of Web 2.0 platforms; within 1 year, 2 until 3 years and 4 until 5 years. In the 2008 edition, the Horizon report puts Grassroots Video & Collaboration Webs (at 1 year), with mobile broadband (2 to 3 years). In addition they suggest that data mashups, collective intelligence and social operating systems (representing the next generation of social networking) are taken up after 4 to 5 years:
11 Museums: 2.0: A Survey of Museum Blogs & Community Sites, blog/2006/03/06/a-survey-of-museum-blogs-community-sites.
12 Museums and the Web,
13 IFLA World Library and Information Congress
14 The history of Wikipedia,
15 Your Archives,
16 RSS (Really Simple Syndication),
17 ATOM (Atom Syndication Format),
18 SFMOMA Artcasts Program,
19 SFMOMA Artcasts awards, the 2007 Museums and the Web Best of the Web Award in the “Best Innovative or Experimental Application” category; and the 2006 American Association of Museums Muse Award in the “Two-Way Communication”.
20 Article on podcasting in the museum on the UK-Based 24 HourMuseum,
21 Libraries who podcast,
22 BBC Podcasts,
23 InfrWorld Posdcast,
24 «Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one’s own retrieval. The tagging is done in a social environment (usually shared and open to others). Folksonomy is created from the act of tagging by the person consuming the information. The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object. People are not so much categorizing, as providing a means to connect items (placing hooks) to provide their meaning in their own understanding.», Thomas Vander Wal, 2003.
25 Folksonomies: Tidying up Tags?,
26 Steve Museum,
27 Powerhouse Museum, Sydney,
28 Google’s Imager,
29 Jeff Howe’s definition of ‘crowdsourcing’,
30 Flickr Commons
32 Social networking sites according the Wikipedia list, social_networking_websites.
34 Museums on Facebook Group,
35 The Open Society Archives – OSA – is an archive and centre for research and education. Its collections and activities relate to the period after the Second World War, mainly The Cold War, the history of the formerly communist countries, Human rights, and War crimes.
36 The Electric Sheep Company,
37 McMaster University, Ontario,
38 Dresden gallery in Second Life,
39 Andrew Curry,

9 Susan Hazan, Weaving Community Webs: A Position Paper, DigiCULT Thematic Issue 5:Virtual Communities and Collaboration..., thematicissue5 _ january_2004.pdf.

10 The Horizon Report, 2008, published by The New Media Consortium describes the technological trends for higher education and the creative industry. This report makes a distinction between three periods for the adoption of Web 2.0 platforms; within 1 year, 2 until 3 years and 4 until 5 years. In the 2008 edition, the Horizon report puts Grassroots Video & Collaboration Webs (at 1 year), with mobile broadband (2 to 3 years). In addition they suggest that data mashups, collective intelligence and social operating systems (representing the next generation of social networking) are taken up after 4 to 5 years:

11 Museums: 2.0: A Survey of Museum Blogs & Community Sites, blog/2006/03/06/a-survey-of-museum-blogs-community-sites.

12 Museums and the Web,

13 IFLA World Library and Information Congress

14 The history of Wikipedia,

15 Your Archives,

16RSS (Really Simple Syndication),

17 ATOM (Atom Syndication Format),

18 SFMOMA Artcasts Program,

19 SFMOMA Artcasts awards, the 2007 Museums and the Web Best of the Web Award in the “Best Innovative or Experimental Application” category; and the 2006 American Association of Museums Muse Award in the “Two-Way Communication”.

20 Article on podcasting in the museum on the UK-Based 24 HourMuseum,

21 Libraries who podcast,

22 BBC Podcasts,

23 InfrWorld Posdcast,

24 «Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one’s own retrieval. The tagging is done in a social environment (usually shared and open to others). Folksonomy is created from the act of tagging by the person consuming the information. The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object. People are not so much categorizing, as providing a means to connect items (placing hooks) to provide their meaning in their own understanding.», Thomas Vander Wal, 2003.

25 Folksonomies: Tidying up Tags?,

26 Steve Museum,

27 Powerhouse Museum, Sydney,

28 Google’s Imager,

29 Jeff Howe’s definition of ‘crowdsourcing’,

30 Flickr Commons


32 Social networking sites according the Wikipedia list, social_networking_websites.


34 Museums on Facebook Group,

35 The Open Society Archives – OSA – is an archive and centre for research and education. Its collections and activities relate to the period after the Second World War, mainly The Cold War, the history of the formerly communist countries, Human rights, and War crimes.

36 The Electric Sheep Company,

37 McMaster University, Ontario,

38Dresden gallery in Second Life,

39 Andrew Curry,

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Quality, accessibility, usability

Best Practices