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e-Culture Horizons: from Digitisation to Creating Cultural Experiences

Andreas Strasser reports on a two-day symposium hosted and organised by Salzburg Research in Salzburg, Austria, over 27-28 September 2004.

The eCulture symposium held for the second time in Salzburg from 27 - 28 September 2004, represents the annual gathering of leading thinkers brought together by the eCulture Group of Salzburg Research [1] to tackle specific themes in the area of research and technology development for the cultural heritage application field.

This year's theme drew an audience of regional, national, and international experts from a broad selection of research institutions, multimedia companies and technology providers, as well as political decision makers, to explore the transition from digitisation to creating cultural experiences. Key note speeches, presentations and workshops looked at how cultural institutions can better plan, manage and finance digitisation projects and add value to their communities by creating digital cultural experiences. Promising new technologies and interfaces to enable and enhance these experiences were at the centre of discussion.

In fact, the symposium offered much room for discussing the experts' contributions, as well as intensive workshops in which small groups of participants gathered to work on topics such as tomorrow's cultural memory and new concepts of eCulture and cultural experiences.

New Challenges for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage

Nestled in the foothills of Mönchsberg and in the shadow of the 900-year-old Hohensalzburg Fortress, the symposium was given an appropriate setting to tackle the notion of eCulture. As the largest fully-preserved fortress in central Europe it remained impenetrable to marauding armies, and, it was hoped, that the strategies to tackle the nature of digital cultural artefacts and create engaging eCulture experiences would similarly stand the test of time.

A large part of the vast amount of information produced in the world today is born digital. Abdelaziz Abid from UNESCO argued that cultural institutions traditionally entrusted with collecting and preserving cultural heritage were increasingly pressured as to which of these materials should be kept for future generations, and how to go about selecting and preserving them. Aware of the importance of these issues, on 17 October 2003 UNESCO
adopted the Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage [2] laying out the main principles for preserving digital heritage.

Mr Abid encouraged the audience to exploit UNESCO as a resource in the promotion of digital preservation at the national and regional level. He highlighted the recently published Guidelines for the Preservation of Digital Heritage [3] which provides a checklist of issues and responsibilities that programmes need to take into account when approaching the task of preserving digital heritage.

photo (69KB) : Symposium location, University of Salzburg. © Salzburg Research 2004.

Symposium location, University of Salzburg. © Salzburg Research 2004.

How Best to Digitise Analogue Cultural Heritage?

Mr Abid focused on the need for preserving born-digital heritage, but the immediate concern for most museums, archives and libraries remained the challenge of digitising their analogue cultural heritage. In order to optimise the use of restricted resources, it was necessary to co-ordinate and harmonise activities in the area in the digitisation of cultural and scientific heritage across Europe.

Hence, the symposium endorsed the aims and activities of the European Minerva initiative [4] which seeks to streamline and co-ordinate national activities and provides recommendations and guidelines about digitisation, metadata, accessibility and long-term preservation. As a partner in the Minerva+ Project, the symposium organiser Salzburg Research invited project members to use the conference as an opportunity to meet and exchange opinions on digitisation practices. This was used by project members and other interested institutions from Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Serbia & Montenegro.

The symposium featured presentations focusing on various issues relevant to the successful implementation of digitisation projects. To focus the minds of the audience, Norbert Kanter from ZetCOM AG, Berlin [5], presented a number of online and on-site showcase projects of museums which have created digital collections in recent years.

Christian Dögl from uma information technology AG [6] introduced a catalogue of provisions for the planning and managing of digitisation projects which could enable cultural institutions to optimise the financing, the usage and ultimately the overall lifespan of their cultural artefacts.

To reduce risks and ensure successful digitisation projects, the economics of digitisation, in particular in respect of large and comprehensive collections, needs to be managed carefully. Therefore, Josef Riegler from the Steiermärkisches Landesarchiv [7] introduced ways of how to finance digitisation projects. Alfred Schmidt and Christa Müller, basing their presentation on the Austrian National Library's [8] extensive experience of digitising its collections, highlighted both the potential threats and benefits of digitisation projects.

From Digitisation to Cultural Experiences

As mentioned above, the focus of the symposium was to develop 'visions of eCulture': What will be the face of digital culture in the future? Most presenters seemed to agree that the digital cultural experience of the future would take place in a free-associating digital environment that will permeate today's institutional, social and political constructs. Indeed the current demarcations between user and creator will melt and fuse. Marc Federman, the Chief Strategist of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology of the University of Toronto [9], as key note speaker began the journey into the future by asking the audience to strap on their seat belts, stow away prior assumptions and preconceived notions in the luggage compartment above, and hold on tight.

He provided the audience with a fascinating philosophical insight into his vision for the future of cultural experiences, a vision that he described as the 'ephemeral artefact'. In this vision, we are not merely spectators, or consumers of cultural artefacts, we actually become the creators.

Today's networked media, he argues; allow each one of us to participate actively in the creation of cultural 'expressions' which we perceive simultaneously and with immediate 'proximity'. We cease to be bound by geographic location or time; we are able to participate anytime and anywhere. He sees this proximity as the realisation of McLuhan's 'global village', which anticipates the emergence of a true global culture. The cultural expressions that we create in this global environment and under today's conditions of instantaneous, multi-way communication, he argued, are ephemeral in nature - they exist precisely in, and can only be experienced in, the present.

Gail Durbin, the head of the Victoria and Albert's On-Line Museum [10], provided examples of how this is already taking place. She maintained that true added value can only be created if some power is handed to the visitor. Digital assets have to be made available to serve the purpose of the visitor and not the institution. She accepted this strategy involved risks, but could pay off in creative returns, in particular for the benefit and inspiration of users. The Victoria and Albert Museum had explored a variety of ways to place the user in the centre of engaging cultural experiences. Quizzes, for example, had proven successful in raising the online visitor's interest in the Museum's collections. But the Museum has also found ways of making the visitor the actual creator of cultural artefacts.

The project A Modern Icon [11] is one such example. Here the Museum had acquired the chair from the notorious Christine Keeler photograph, which became a classic Sixties icon. Using a replica of this chair as a motif, people were invited to present themselves for a portrait. The resulting photographs are now part of the Museum's collection.

In another project, Wish You Were Here [12], drop-in visitors were invited to create a museum postcard using a digital camera and graphic software. The inspiration came from the photographs by Lady Hawarden in the Photography Gallery of the Museum. After taking photographs in the galleries, the visitors were able to manipulate and finally print their images as postcards. These postcards are now part of the Museum's photography collections.

New Technologies for eCulture Experiences

Symposium moderator John Pereira, Salzburg Research's manager of the DigiCULT Project [13], opened a new session which presented promising new technologies, interfaces and actual applications to realise these experiences.

The Semantic Web is one of these promising technologies, according to Ziva Ben-Porat from Tel Aviv University [14] and Wernher Behrendt from Salzburg Research. They proposed a roadmap towards semantically enabled e-learning spaces for cultural heritage content. Drawing on the results of the CULTOS Project [15], their presentation focused on the need to build productivity tools for authoring in the Semantic Web environment and on the infrastructure for sharing such standardised, ontology-based content.

To further the development towards semantic-based systems, Alexander Wahler from NIWA Web Solutions [16] highlighted the importance of providing innovative entry points to cultural content, such as, location-based services which support nomadic eCulture users.

Bernhard Angerer from the Vienna-based non-profit organisation Polygon presented thecrystalwebx [17], a virtual museum sponsored by the renowned Austrian company Swarovski. This museum integrates content from more than 300 institutions and engages the user in an innovative semantic-driven, adaptive interface.

Further promising technologies, according to Christian Breiteneder, head of the Interactive Media Systems Group, Vienna University of Technology [18] are pervasive computing and augmented reality. The vision of pervasive computing is to some extent a projection of the future fusion of two phenomena of today: the Internet and mobile telephony. Breiteneder predicted the emergence of large networks of communicating smart devices which means that computing will no longer be performed by just 'traditional' computers but rather by all manner of devices. But how will these new technologies interact with such an invisible distributed computing system? Augmented reality, Breiteneder maintained, would represent an excellent user interface for such an environment. In an augmented reality system the user's perception of the real world is enhanced by computer-generated entities such as 2D images and 3D objects. The interaction with these entities occurs in real-time to provide convincing feedback to the user and to give the impression of natural interaction.

From the commercial sector, Fabrizio Cardinali, CEO of Giunti Interactive Labs [19], one of Europe's leading e-Learning and new media publishing technologies companies, presented the role of the publishing sector at the dawn of this 'new era'. He argued that a major challenge in the use of these new technologies will be the development and deployment of new content, using new formats and models optimised for new media. As one example, Cardinali showcased the SCULPTEUR Project [20] which Giunti Interactive Labs is developing as an application that assists curators, instructional designers and educators to build virtual environments of 3-dimensional cultural learning objects.


The Salzburg Research eCulture symposium provided the audience with a comprehensive and engaging overview of the transition from digitisation to eCulture experiences. Along with developments towards a theoretical framework, the symposium presented emerging technologies and showcased applications that are moving us towards the eCulture vision. All presentations will be made available for download from the symposium Web site [21].


  1. Salzburg Research / eCulture Group
  2. UNESCO: Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=17721&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
  3. UNESCO: Guidelines for the Preservation of Digital Heritage http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001300/130071e.pdf
  4. Minerva http://www.minervaeurope.org/
  5. ZetCOM AG http://www.zetcom.ch/
  6. uma information technology GmbH http://www.uma.at/
  7. Steiermärkisches Landesarchiv http://www.verwaltung.steiermark.at/cms/ziel/8581/DE/
  8. Austrian National Library http://www.onb.ac.at/
  9. McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, University of Toronto http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/
  10. Victoria & Albert Museum http://www.vam.ac.uk/
  11. V&A Museum project: A Modern Icon,
  12. V&A Museum project: Wish You Were Here http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/wishyouwerehere/
  13. DigiCULT project http://www.digicult.info/
  14. Tel Aviv University http://www.tau.ac.il/
  15. CULTOS project http://www.cultos.org/
  16. NIWA Web Solutions http://www.niwa.at/
  17. thecrystalweb http://www.thecrystalweb.org/
  18. Interactive Media Systems Group, Vienna University of Technology http://www.ims.tuwien.ac.at/
  19. Giunti Interactive Labs http://www.giuntilabs.com/
  20. SCULPTEUR Project http://www.sculpteurweb.org/
  21. Salzburg Research Symposium 2004 http://eculture.salzburgresearch.at/

Author Details

Andreas Strasser
Research Associate
eCulture Group / Information Society Research
Salzburg Research

Email: andreas.strasser@salzburgresearch.at
Web site: http://www.salzburgresearch.at

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