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Path: Home | Publications | Quality criteria  |  Table of contents  | Chapter 1



 

Quality criteria for public cultural Web applications: recommendations and guidelines


1 Definitions, principles and basic recommendations

1.1 Definitions

  1.1.1 Public Cultural Entity (PCE)
      1.1.1.1 Identity
      1.1.1.2 Categories
      1.1.1.3 Goals

  1.1.2 Public Cultural Web Application (PCWA)
      1.1.2.1 Goals

  1.1.3 Users of the PCWA
      1.1.3.1 User Needs
      1.1.3.2 User Paths

1.2 Principles

  1.2.1 Promote a widespread diffusion of culture

  1.2.2 Belong to a community of cultural entities

  1.2.3 Exploit the effectiveness of new means of communication

  1.2.4 Adopt an intelligent use of the Web

  1.2.5 Conceive quality as the result of interaction among cultural entities and users

1.3 Policies and strategy: some recommendations

  1.3.1 Portals and cultural networks

  1.3.2 Recognisability and visibility of the quality-evaluation

  1.3.3 Co-ordination of internal and external data and information flow

  1.3.4 Co-ordination among various channels of communication

  1.3.5 Planning, development and management of a PCWA

  1.3.6 Respect of IPR and privacy in contents

  1.3.7 Long-term preservation of Web contents


1.1 Definitions

The topic of Web quality in the area of public culture and has various aspects. The Web, with its own specific conceptual, functional and linguistic expressions, faces the field of culture in its public aspect; that is to say, its specific role of conserving and exploiting the cultural and scientific heritage.

This union is still in an innovative and experimental phase. On the one hand we have the world of culture; a world which has been defined and classified by centuries of theoretical and practical formulation. On the other we have a new, revolutionary technology, which is having an extraordinary impact on communication and the spread of information and knowledge.

For these reasons, in the early phases of formulation of the handbook, it was both necessary and important to clarify concepts, areas, and subjects. The starting point was the practical need to find efficient definitions which were real and suited to their destined purpose.


1.1.1 Public Cultural Entity (PCE)

An institution, organism or project of public interest in all sectors (archives, libraries, archaeological, historical-artistic and scientific, architectural, ethnographical and anthropological heritage), whose stated aim is to produce, conserve, safeguard, exploit and spread culture.

The definition of a Public Cultural Entity is deliberately generic in order to include different national characteristics, both political-administrative and technical-scientific. Cultural Entities are, in the first place, public institutions for conservation of the cultural and scientific heritage. However, the inclusion of various juridical entities which operate as organisms and associations of public interest; foundations, societies, projects aimed at specific activities and functions, greatly amplified the sphere of the definition.


1.1.1.1 Identity

The identity of a Public Cultural Entity is defined by:

  • the history
  • the institutional aims or mission
  • the cultural content which is produced, conserved and diffused
  • the organisational structure
  • the physical and geographical location of the entity

1.1.1.2 Categories

The sector of culture is vast and composite, and at the same time it presents so many specific characteristics that in order to produce useful quality criteria and guidelines, the task was limited to dealing with the categories of cultural and scientific heritage. Across the member states of the European Union, these categories have been formed in an essentially common historical process of cultural and of juridical-administrative definition, with the aim of managing - in the widest sense of the term - the cultural and scientific heritage

  • Archives
  • Libraries
  • Cultural heritage diffused on territory
  • Museums
  • Institutes for administration and safeguarding
  • Centres for research and education
  • Temporary exhibitions
  • Cultural projects

PCE

Cultural heritage

Mobile

Immobile

Archivistic

Bibliographic

Archaeologic

Historic-artistic andScientific

Etnographic-Anthropologic

Archaeologic

Architectural

Landscape

Archives

X

X

 

X

 
 

X

 

Libraries

X

X

 

X

 
 

X

 

Museums

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

Cultural heritage diffused on territory

 
 

X

 
 
 

X

X

Institutes for administration and safeguarding

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Centres for research and education

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Cultural projects

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Temporary exhibitions

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X


1.1.1.3 Goals

A PCE achieves its stated mission and satisfies the needs of users by pin-pointing specific objectives. To achieve these aims the PCE may use the Web.


1.1.2 Public Cultural Web Application (PCWA)

A PCWA is considered to be every Web application where the content deals with cultural and scientific heritage and its ramifications, and where at least one of the following aims are realised:

  • supplying and spreading cultural and scientific information
  • existing as an instrument for education and scientific research

A Public Cultural Web Application is one of the most effective instruments available to the PCE for fulfilling its mission and satisfying the needs of the widest possible number of users. A PCWA must reflect the identity of the PCE and at the same time guarantee technological standards that raise its quality.


1.1.2.1 Goals

Related activities are A PCWA has its own specific objectives which form the base of the project. Some of these goals are general and necessary (present the identity of the cultural entity, its activity, its goals, the aims of the Web application itself, spread cultural content, play an efficient role in the sector network), while others are strictly dependent on the goals which the PCE aims to achieve through the PCWA.


1.1.3 User

A user is professional or not, specialist or not who casually, or with specific aims, occasionally, or systematically uses the PCWA. User identity is extremely variable depending on cultural profile, aspirations for cultural growth, professional aims and even momentary curiosity.

Generally speaking, in the field of web applications, the preliminary planning stage is dedicated to pin-pointing "user-profiles" which are then used as a basis for designing crucial aspects of the web application. It is important to consider that Web Applications produced or promoted by public entities or bodies working in the public interest are, by institutional mission statement, aimed at a vast, composite range of users, which escapes the confines of pre-defined lists. The principle goal of a PCWA must therefore be considered that of diffusing culture to all citizens, thus favouring their growth. To this end, various strategies (such as defined user-paths, correct choice of language etc.) require investigation.


1.1.3.1 User needs

User needs constitute a complex pattern including the desire for a content which is reliable, comprehensible, rich, and up-dated, and can be used to satisfy purposes as diverse as curiosity, personal and professional growth, and scientific research. The contents must therefore be produced and organised in such a way as to allow the user to access them with the greatest ease.

While it is not possible to predict all possible user needs, a PCWA must however aim for the widest possible satisfaction. All users should be able to choose the cultural and scientific content that most satisfies their individual needs.


1.1.3.2 User paths

In order to allow users to follow varying levels of research, both in terms of content and of scientific and linguistic complexity, a PCWA must develop various user paths.

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1.2 Principles

The general principles listed below are the result of reflections on the role of a Web application in the sector of culture, more specifically, in the field of cultural and scientific heritage. Besides defining the motives and basic usefulness of a Web application, it is necessary to establish the position it must hold within the system of communication, information and cultural education, both internally and externally to the public cultural entity, and in relation to its active participation in the Web community.

These general principles, in as much as they are vital and foundational elements for quality requirements of a PCWA, must be evaluated during the initial development of the basic concept of the Web site, as meeting these principles requires specific choices during the planning stage.

It is however, advisable, to periodically verify the correspondence of these principles during the course of planning, and further, on implementation of the Web application


1.2.1 Promote a widespread diffusion of culture

In the European Society of Information and Knowledge the diffusion of culture is a fundamental instrument for raising the quality of life and for affirming the added value of a shared European culture.


1.2.2 Belong to a community of cultural entities

A Public Cultural Entity must belong to a community made up of all the other cultural entities which are working towards the progress of culture in the same specific cultural sector.


1.2.3 Exploit the effectiveness of new means of communication

The first mission of a PCE is to spread culture to people from different cultural backgrounds. It is a means of sensitising the public towards conservation of cultural and scientific heritage and for this reason Web applications are important and innovative tools of communication, to be integrated with traditional instruments.


1.2.4 Adopt an intelligent use of the Web

The rich potential of the Web must be used with full awareness in order to give a valid contribution to the growth of the Society of Information and Knowledge, in respect of democracy and cultural differences.


1.2.5 Conceive quality as the result of interaction among cultural entities and users

Quality criteria are a vital element in determining the effectiveness of a Web application. Some quality criteria are generic to the Web, others are specific to cultural Web-sites. The latter are based on considered interaction among the aims of cultural entities, the needs of the user, and the characteristics of the Web application.

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1.3 Policies and strategies: some recommendations

In the form of recommendations, this chapter will deal with the policy and strategies underlying the whole project of preliminary development of a PCWA. There are three distinct but related aspects to the topic:

  • The definition of a policy of appurtenance to new Web communities, thus permitting - given evaluation of the pre-requisites of quality - access to a specific domain name (cf. 1.3.1.1. and 2).
  • The adoption of strategies for co-ordination of information flow within the PCE and co-ordinated and organic use of the various channels of communication (cf. 1.3.3 and 4).
  • The provision for planning procedures which ensure efficient realisation of safe Web applications which adhere to the internationally recognised standards and regulations (Cf. 3.5, 6 and 7).

1.3.1 Portals and cultural networks

In respect of the democracy of content and communication, a quality PCWA must be actively present in networks and European thematic portals in order to be easily recognisable and thus to contribute to the creation of a European added value.

Portals and networks that are maintained by a PCE can valorise certain aspects of culture and science. Culture is seen to be a relational, communal, local value and a source of identity. Culture is indeed, the epitome of a relational value; in as much as it cannot be exploited outside a social context. In this sense a PCWA increases the potential of social relations between individuals and institutions organised in a "network". Culture is a "work of community" in the sense that, in a context of essential freedom, it involves all those who individually, separately or simultaneously consume or produce it.

In this sense a PCWA, gathering together valid enterprises which the community undertakes, can enrich and consolidate the social heritage of a given community and in particular that of Europe. Culture is also a local public heritage. Thus are defined those assets which share some of the characteristics of "pure" public heritage, such as shared features and non-appropriability.

Because of dependence on a base of local resources, local heritage cannot be universally available, except in the sense that it can be offered to all those who are willing and able to visit the physical place where the heritage is located. A PCWA therefore, can open new horizons for local and regional digital strategies, following the strongly supported current of European cultural policy; that of exploitation of cultural diversities, according to the concept of unity in diversity.

Digital networks and Internet portals sponsored by a PCE may aim to promote regional goods and services, which are sustainable and competitive on the global market, thus overcoming problems of the "digital divide". Culture is a source of identity; it distinguishes one community from another and, as such, influences the economic success of a territory, attracting residents and visitors according to the richness of the cultural offer.

A PCWA, through participating in networks and portals, can highlight and valorise policies of communication and spread of culture, presenting informative contents and on-line services which promote an original line of territorial development, based on a high level of local involvement and sharing the potentials of new competences which emerge from the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

1.3.2 Recognisability and visibility of the quality-evaluation

Useful measures both for achieving maximum visibility on-line and for precise on-line identity should be activated.

Visibility can be achieved through an explicit policy of communication and information, such as press releases to media centres, messages specifically addressed to newsgroups and fora and co-ordinated description of the structure of site contents.

It would be advisable to adopt descriptive language (e.g. metadata structured according to the rules of the Dublin Core group) which ensures that search engines can trace and identify the PCE. The definition of a set of metadata (both obligatory and optional) can be delegated to a group created specifically for this task.

A system of site denomination which ensures unequivocal appurtenance to a specific cultural domain would guarantee recognisable identity. To this end it would be advisable to adopt a specific Top Level Domain (TLD) such as ".museum" or activate, within the top-level domain "eu" (currently under completion), a second level domain - such as "arts" or "cult" - which renders the common European and cultural value explicit.

National governments (and domain providers) have set aside certain sub-domain names for specific functions. This is the case of the restricted second level domain name ".gov" (.gouv in French) which has been activated by many EEC member countries. In Italy the body responsible for managing the country code ".it" had, until few months ago, reserved specific sub-domains - such as ".arts" - which are now unrestricted.

Activation of TLD´s reserved for particular categories and therefore subject to "appurtenance" checks, is a recent development and the result of a long process of proposal, approval and technical organisation. Time required and the technical complexities related to domain provision and organisation, mean that activation of a TLD is not currently a viable proposal.

A policy of voluntary adherence to a certification project through acceptance of basic principles (cf. manual of quality criteria) and a system of checking maintenance of the essential quality criteria defined therein, would seem however, to be practicable. Checks could be carried out by a European group specifically created for the purpose (with periodic meetings and concession of a national stamp or logo). Participation in the project could be certified through numbered logos placed on the home page of the PCWA and validated by a link to an updated register of approved PCWA´s. Every single application would have to be specifically validated.

In general terms it would be advisable to investigate the feasibility of creating an organising body for specific domains following the administrative and organisational guide lines of Musedoma, provider of the ".museum" domain. Technical organisation could even be guaranteed by a European provider. Choices should be made considering the fact that ICANN has received many proposals from these providers for running new domains, and that the technical management of the .eu domain is entrusted to a non-government provider.


1.3.3 Co-ordination of internal and external information flow

In order to guarantee the quality of a PCWA, the flow of information within the Public Cultural Entity must, by means of appropriate technologies, be regulated together with external flow, thus ensuring necessary updating of the data and information.

The value of a Web application lies in its communicative quality and in the close relationship, which it must maintain with, the activity of the Entity (or group of Entities) which produced or promoted it. The organisation of space in the Web application of a PCE is thus to be seen as strictly connected with the organisation of information and of documents within the institution.

Current possibilities for planning an integrated Internet/Intranet system, together with the powerful and versatile tools available for updating Web applications on the part of administrators with differentiated priorities, allow a PCE to plan in the Web environment as in a real organisational centre of documentary and informational systems, both internally and externally.

In the specific context of quality of a Web application, it is important that the staff running the project must guarantee that contents be updated, credible and of quality from the point of view of appropriateness of language, reliability and responsibility. (The team of staff could be composed of internal, external, or both internal and external elements.)

In particular, it is important to create mechanisms for close co-ordination of the operative unit running the Web application with the unit reserved for communication with the institute. Depending on the availability of human and financial resources, it may also be advisable to create various units: institutional communication, press office, Web.

In order to realise these services, it is important to consider that the Web staff should be composed not only of technical/informatics experts but also of specialists in the cultural and scientific mission of the institute. Experts in public communication should be involved and staff handbooks should be produced giving precise definitions of the operative modes and of information flow.

Considering that the subjects are PCEs it is particularly important to establish precisely which services it is possible to out-source and which it would be opportune to run from within the organisation, thus avoiding the oft encountered risk of delegating expression of the very essence of the Web application to external bodies. Thus, transmission of the meaning and substantial identity of the Entity remain in control of the Entity itself, independent of the body responsible for the material creation of the application.


1.3.4 Co-ordination among various channels of communication

A quality Public Cultural Web Application must be co-ordinated with all the other systems of communication, both digital and otherwise, which are active in the Public Cultural Entity. Where necessary, an organic model of communication must be defined and should include the following aspects: the organisation of work, research activities, selection and production of information, delegation of services to third parties, and the role of external consultants.

The Web site of a Public Cultural Entity must be conceived as an instrument for transmission of information and for interaction with users. It must not only include the communicative experiences matured within the Entity (where this exists), the good practices realised in the sector, but also, because of its peculiar potential as information organiser, become an active (and interactive) archive for the Entity.

When considering an efficient communication strategy for a PCE, it is important to work out models of co-operation and exchange between the various active channels of communication, taking into account both the specificities of the individual media and also the need for coherence and compactness in messages to the outside, hence preserving the identity of the Entity while accommodating the variations of its activity.

Essential differences between "live" communication and the typically mediated communication of Web tools must also be taken into account. For instance, the cultural contents which are the object of "live" communication are usually directly accessible to the senses (audio, visual and tactile) and so, considering that the communication is almost always located in the seat of the institute, more immediately exploitable.

A close connection between the identity of the institute and the cultural or scientific content that it conserves is here more easily made. Furthermore, the possibility of immediate feedback from users can aid adjustments in "direction" (consider the close non-verbal empathy, which is formed during guided tours, lessons, laboratory sessions, etc.).

"Direct" communication generally occurs on the basis of a sequential exhibition of contents: on the one hand the uniqueness and coherence of the path is ensured, on the other, it is necessary to enrich the language (taking steps to avoid a flattening of language while imposing a continuous work of reprocessing) and face the risk of producing text which is difficult, specialist, bureaucratic, prolix, formal and unsuited to the wide variety of users.

The message must be coherent both in time and quality. However, delegation of its communication to different communicative actors can lead to a variability that may hinder its efficiency. When considering the relations between user and Entity via the Web tool, it can be seen that contents are not directly accessible to the senses but are mediated by software and hardware, and, in the case of the Web, by the personalised view modes chosen by the user. Contents are separate from the event/place/document/monument to which they refer but can nonetheless be accessed, personalised and, in certain cases, reproduced.

This "de-localisation" of the communicative process would seem to break the link between the identity of the institute and its contents, and thus force its reconstruction through deliberately chosen communicative tools. Hence the need to construct a Web application centred on the identity of the Cultural Entity. Analysis of feedback implies specific techniques and its lack of immediacy suggests long time scales for updating or re-directing.

This process must in no way be guided by the speed of change in "Web style" (the influence of the technology market) but by rethinking the nature of the process of communication. The use of hypertext and the exploitation of multimedia - a network of texts and icons, sounds, animation, films etc., - allows the construction of open communication along various different paths to be chosen by the user.

Care should be taken however, to ensure that communication is coherent and that paths be various both in the horizontal sense (i.e. the "narrational" sequence: personal choice between nodes) and vertically (i.e. the complexity of the communication which reflects the profile of the user). Certain messages may at times require specialist pathways and these messages should be clearly distinguishable from the basic information flow.


1.3.5 Planning, development and management of a PCWA

The realisation of a PCWA requires careful planning. The feasibility plan and the development phase must centre on organisation of contents, which includes providing for future maintenance of quality.

Particular importance - indeed centrality - of contents and their quality for a Public Cultural Web Application, must constitute a directional element in planning.

In the first place origin, strategy for maintenance and updating of data must be carefully considered:

The obligation to guarantee substantial integrity of information throughout the course of possible further development on the application, suggests planning which, as far as possible, separates the contents from their presentation, thus leaving open the possibility to change paths and format without altering the main quality of the data.

The development staff should include both content experts from the cultural sector in question, communication experts from the Entity itself and also experts in Web projects. During the planning stage, the development team should maintain an open channel of communication with the "creators" of the software in case their intervention should be required, in this way avoiding the risk that institutional and/or formal changes in the PCE or PCWA could result in a loss of contents.

Furthermore, the Web team of the PCE, co-ordinated by a project manager specialising in cultural contents and on-line communication, must guarantee Web stability of communication with the Entity represented, working together with the Press Office and with traditional means of internal communication.

Continuous monitoring of audience reached must also be held in consideration.

The analysis of feedback must therefore be part of the project right from the start. It must become a tool for monitoring and a stimulus for immediate and visible intervention thus giving the PCWA a strong sense of continuous processing, also in terms of adaptability of the service to users needs.


1.3.6 Respect of IPR and privacy in contents

Contents diffused by a PCWA concerning cultural and scientific heritage must guarantee intellectual property rights (IPR) and respect of the privacy of sensitive personal data according to current European and national regulations.

Changeover from habitual methods for acquisition and reproduction and from traditional analogical support, to new systems based on digital technology poses questions for protection of the intellectual property rights (IPR) of digital documents which will be published and for preservation of respect of privacy concerning their contents. This is especially so in the case of Public Cultural Entities. Information and data banks on cultural and scientific heritage will have to provide differentiated levels for user profiles authorised to access given packets of services and contents, both on the basis of legal criteria and in virtue of commercial transaction. Sensitive data could be concealed from non-authorised users in order to ensure the safety of the heritage. Take, for example, the case of locating archaeological areas, submerged wrecks or heritage belonging to private collectors who do not intend to reveal the geographic location of the collection. Information on the locality could be filtered, e.g. by giving the province rather than the exact location.

Establishing laws concerning the contents of digital documents, similar to those governing analogical documents, could ensure protection of privacy of archival documents.

In the planning and development phase of a PCWA it is important to select which material will be published, thence to identify copyright holders and finally send requests for authorisation to the institutions which are responsible for safeguarding (museums, ministerial bodies, etc.) or to the owners of the heritage and sensitive data with relation to privacy. There are ever more efficient practices and techniques for protection of the rights of authors over published contents (those connected with the ownership of items that are reproduced and those connected with the intellectual ownership of original scientific contributions). In the case of copies and reproductions, the simplest technique is to offer not a high definition reproduction, but a low-quality version. This guarantees the function of spreading culture without implying the sale of a "digital heritage" attained at notable costs.

Partial or synthetic versions of original scientific and cultural works can be made available, thus activating a process of differentiated access. Refined techniques of digital watermarking mean that a group of data can be given a logo, an appropriate code that guarantees correct and legal distribution of the digital or digitalised heritage by unequivocally identifying the legitimate owner, buyer or authorised user.

A system of specific applications - so-called "spiders" - make it possible to seek and trace protected contents lifted from a PCWA without necessary authorisation. Insertion of a watermark should not however, lead to downgrading of the quality of the data; i.e. it should not lead to visible changes in the original content.


1.3.7 Long-term preservation of Web contents

Public Cultural Entities must be in the forefront of the diffusion of good practices and standards for the long-term preservation of material published on Internet: an information heritage and legacy of our present for the future.

In all sectors the Internet is currently a primary channel for diffusion, processing, search and storage of information. If long term preservation strategies are not implemented, there is a risk is that this enormous mass of information could be lost, especially in those cases where Internet substitutes other channels of information. Consider, for example, all the information on the bibliographical heritage of many libraries whose catalogues are available solely on the Web.

If we consider that the average life of a web page is currently estimated at 40 days, the challenge is to preserve sources which in a mere few years will be the objects of studies on cyberculture. Awareness of the urgent need to define policies and strategies for preservation and storage of this heritage of digital information, has, over recent years, produced international research projects and experiments with encouraging results.

If the management of digital records and local data-banks can now - thanks to these enterprises - rely on solid technical and organisational reference points, there is still much to do as far as the content of the Web is concerned. The dynamic nature of the material, its strong interactive nature, the continuous development of new technological formats, and indeed the multiplicity of creators, renders preservation of Web contents even more complex.

While all creators and developers are involved in this process, public entities however, must play a central role; for particular care of records produced in the place where they are conserved and for which they are responsible, for their natural vocation as preservers of the memory of civilisation and also for their technical function as conservers of archives and bibliographies.

The Entities involved in long-term preservation are then, primarily the private and public web creators, who must create and manage their digital archives using international standards. Then come National storage institutes (usually National Archives and National Libraries) which are able to guarantee long-term availability and tutelage of authorship, copyrights and privacy of content.

Lastly, considering the global nature of the web, a continuous co-operation both on legal and technical implications is necessary on an international level.

Concerning which contents to preserve, an appraisal strategy similar to that employed in traditional appraisal systems must be adopted. It should be based on criteria that are recognised at least on a national level and are compatible with technological and economic feasibility.



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