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A Cultural Entity achieves its stated mission and satisfies the needs of users by pin-pointing specific objectives. To achieve these aims the CE may use the Web.
1.1.2 Cultural Web Application (CWA)
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:
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 CE and at the same time guarantee technological standards that raise its quality.
A Cultural Web Application 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 CE aims to achieve through the CWA.
A user is a professional or not, specialist or not who casually or with specific aims, occasionally or systematically uses the Cultural Web Application. 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 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 Cultural Web Application must therefore be considered that of diffusing culture to all citizens, thus favouring their growth. To this end, various strategies (such as multiple path interface) could be useful in many applications, but this depends entirely on the stated goal.
126.96.36.199 User needs
User needs constitute
a complex pattern including the desire for 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.
The general fundamentals 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 cultural entity, and in relation to its active participation in the Web community.
These general fundamentals, in as much as they are vital and basic elements for quality requirements of a CWA, must be evaluated during the initial development of the basic concept of the Web site, as meeting these fundamentals requires specific choices during the planning stage.
It is however, advisable to periodically verify the correspondence of these fundamentals during the course of planning, and further, on implementation of the Web Application. The verification is expected to be conducted with representatives of the users, possibly within pilot installations, where users feed-back can be more easily gathered and analysed.
1.2.1 Promote a widespread diffusion of culture
In the European Information Society 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.
Ideally, A Cultural Entity may 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.
1.2.2 Exploit the effectiveness of new means of communication
Web Applications are important and innovative tools of communication,
to be integrated with traditional instruments. In particular in
the case of a Cultural Web Application, it is important to properly
select, digitise, author, present and validate content to create
an effective Website for users.
1.2.3 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 European
Information Society, in respect of democracy and cultural differences.
1.2.4 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.
Possible emergence of "external" standard that is
specific to cultural Web Applications would be monitored and encouraged
by the Cultural Entities, as it would represent a useful reference
for their developments on the Web.
In the form of recommendations, this chapter will deal with the policy and strategies underlying the whole project of preliminary development of a CWA. There are three distinct but related aspects to the topic:
1.3.1 Portals and cultural networks
In respect of the democracy of content and communication, a quality CWA 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 CE 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 CWA 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 CWA, 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 CWA 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 CE 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 CWA, 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 competencies
which emerge from the development of Information and Communication
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 forums and co-ordinated
description of the structure of site contents.
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.
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
1.3.3 Co-ordination of internal and external information flow
In order to guarantee the quality of a CWA, the flow of information within the 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 CE 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 CE 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 CEs 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 Cross-over between various channels of communication
A quality Cultural Web Application must be co-ordinated with all the other systems of communication, both digital and otherwise, which are active in the 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 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 CE, 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.).
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 CWA
The realisation of a Cultural Web Application 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 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 CE or CWA could result in a loss of contents.
Furthermore, the Web team of the CE, 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 CWA a strong sense of continuous processing, also in terms of adaptability of the service to users needs.
It is worth to be mentioned that this paragraph is a very brief
summary about the matter, which is certainly important but not
exactly in the scope of the present Handbook.
1.3.6 Respect of Copyright (IPR) and privacy in contents*
Contents diffused by a CWA concerning cultural and scientific heritage must guarantee the respect of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and 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 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.
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 CWA 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
1.3.7 Long-term preservation of Web contents*
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 cyber-culture. 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, 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.