Handbook for quality in cultural Web sites
Improving quality for citizens
Over the last few years, the growing awareness in every sector
of the importance of communication via internet has led to the
need for a Handbook for Quality in Cultural Sites. The field of
Culture in particular, plays a fundamental part in achieving the
goals of the Society of Information and Knowledge which are to
spread culture to all citizens and thus to promote conscious growth
and the affirmation of an added European Value.
It is in this context then, that the Handbook for quality in a
cultural Web sites is a useful tool for achieving a common European
platform to promote accessibility of the cultural and scientific
heritage through the internet. This is a fundamental part of the
policy of digitalisation of the European cultural heritage in
the quest for unified access for all citizens to cultural contents.
In conformity with the regulations developed in the Action Plan
eEurope 2002, on accessibility of content of public administrations,
the handbook proposes the adoption and application of criteria
for the quality, not only of content, but also of accessibility
to information and communication technologies (ICT) and to the
specific on-line information services of Cultural Web Applications.
Particular attention is paid to the users with special needs ,
this being a pre-requisite for guaranteeing an Information Society
open to all. The sharing of common quality criteria across all
Cultural Web Applications will guarantee that quality information
on cultural heritage is supplied according to minimum European
standards. The criteria for quality will be flanked by a method
of analysis and validation allowing measurement and assessment
of the degree of quality achieved by a Cultural Web Application.
The handbook is organised into four main sections, as follows:
- General Definitions, principles and recommendations.
- Introduction to quality: general criteria for Web Applications.
- Specific quality criteria for cultural Web Applications.
- Appendices: Validation methods; Guide to regulations; Bibliography.
1. General definitions, fundamentals and recommendations
The topic of Web quality in the area of culture has various aspects.
The Web, with its own specific conceptual, functional and linguistic
expressions, meets with the field of culture in its public aspect;
that is to say, its specific role of conserving and exploiting
the cultural 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
Indeed, the definitions chosen, allow the goals of the Cultural
Web Application to be linked with the identity and the mission
of the Cultural Entity. The Cultural Web Application (CWA) must
reflect the mission of the Cultural Entity (CE) and guarantee
its transparency. To this end, the main goals of the Cultural
Web Application were identified. Besides a clear description of
the identity and transparency of the mission and activities, it
is hoped to create a sector network, possibly at the European
level. This network of virtual communities with specific cultural
interests would include: presentation of the main regulations
and standards in the sector, diffusion of multi-medial cultural
contents, services for scientific research, professionals and
educationalists, services of cultural tourism, and the ordering
and acquisition of goods.
Each of these goals is analysed for every Cultural Entity. The
definition of a Cultural Entity was deliberately generic in order
to include different national characteristics, both politico-administrative
and techno-scientific. The Cultural Entities are, for the most
part, institutions for conservation and exploitation of the cultural
heritage, but not only. 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.
In order to produce useful quality criteria and guidelines while
taking into account the vast and composite nature of the sector
of culture, the task was limited to the categories of cultural
heritage. Across the member states of the European Union, these
categories have been formed in an essentially common historical
process of cultural and of legal-administrative definition, with
the aim of administering – in the widest sense of the term
- the cultural heritage. More specifically, the handbook addresses
the problems of Libraries, Archives, Conservation Institutes,
Centres for research formation and production, Temporary Exhibitions
and Events, Projects. The handbook is intended to supply useful
guidelines and indications for managers of Web projects in cultural
entities, taking into account the specific, different characteristics
of the various entities.
Another fundamental theme considered in the Handbook is that
of user needs. 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 CWA must therefore be considered
that of diffusing culture to all citizens, thus favouring their
growth. To this end, various strategies (such as pre-selected
user-paths, correct choice of language etc.) require investigation.
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, 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.
Among the strategies considered necessary for the best possible
development of a CWA, is the co-ordination of information flow
from within the organism to the outside. This necessitates the
creation of various channels of communication within the Cultural
Entity, and also of controls on the IPR and the privacy level
of contents published on the Cultural Web Application. The creation
of an archive of CWA’s would hence be advisable.
2. Introduction to quality: general criteria for Web Applications
The characteristics and requisites of a quality Web site can
be identified by analysing the general principles related to Accessibility
of contents and Usability of the Web Application. Accessibility
and Usability are the objectives which quality Web projects should
aim to attain.
A Web site is accessible when its informational content is available
to visitors regardless of disability, of the technology they use
to access the site and of the operational context from whence
they visit the site. The summary indicates the main initiatives
in the field of Accessibility, such as the Web Content Accessibility
Guidelines (WCAG) and the European resolutions.
Principles of Usability view the user as a focal point in planning
the interface, the modes of interaction and organisation of contents.
To guarantee the effectiveness of this “user-centred”
methodology, a representative “panel” of users –
including disabled users - will be constituted and will check
the accessibility of contents.
The criterion of Usability groups together problems in the main
categories and in particular those criteria which refer to CWA’s,
such as Institutional Image and Institutional Responsibility will
A system based on the use of Patterns is proposed as a further
methodological approach and a useful instrument for planning Quality
The language of Patterns developed from the field of studies
on Architecture and has found wider application in the field of
Human Computer Interaction (HCI). A Pattern defines a tried solution
to a recurring problem in a specific context. A Pattern is made
up of three parts: Context, Problem and Solution. Through classifying
the problem in specific contexts and through solutions that resolve
problems in repeated situations, a Catalogue of Patterns is built
up. Here, the individual Patterns appear in sequence; within each
are the Related Patterns that are useful for resolving certain
aspects specific to Web projects. A first proposal of Catalogue
of Patterns and their definitions can be found in the appendix.
3. Minerva Quality Framework for Cultural Web Applications
The specific missions of CWA’s require not only that the
general quality framework valid for all Web Applications be respected,
but also necessitate the adoption of specific goals. These criteria
may vary according to the single goals or objectives of the application,
and these goals in turn are the direct result of an interaction
between the aims of the Cultural Entity and the needs of the users.
These comments are valid for all categories of CE with additional
notes and clarification for the particularities of each category.
In conclusion, we hope this Handbook will be the first version
of a dynamic document which will be enriched, changed and developed
in each country and in each specific cultural area.