background image
10
DigiCULT
Genesis
The Creation:
Division of
Sea and Earth,
Creation of
Trees and
Plants
accessible.We were not forced to dispose of work
that we had `webised' unless we wished to replace its
representation with more sophisticated ones.
Secondly, the value of the content that we put up
increased as more users put up content of their own
because the additional content attracted more users.
Thirdly, to benefit you did not need to generate a lot
of content, a very little would do and you could
incrementally add more later. Slowly heritage insti-
tutions found ways to take advantage of the oppor-
tunities offered by the web, there are still many small
and medium sized heritage institutions that have not.
I
ndeed the heritage sector is likely to be left
behind because the financial rewards for creating
the mark-up necessary to make the Semantic Web a
reality are only evident to the commercial sector.
There can be little doubt that the access to and
understanding of the heritage would benefit from a
world in which the vision of the Semantic Web were
realised. But this is not the first information techno-
logy for which the benefits were promising. Even
very simple strategies such as the use of databases to
enable collection description have been shown over a
period of nearly thirty-five years to bring benefits to
the heritage sector institutions through better know-
ledge about, care of, and access to their collections.
In the ALM sector only libraries can be said to have
fully taken advantage of the technology to describe
their collections and even here a close look shows
that this has not covered all their holdings and not
every institution. For instance, few libraries in the
UK have online catalogues of their pre-1700 items
and almost none have accurately described their
photographic holdings at anything deeper than
collection level.The same can be said of museums
where descriptions are limited, except of course at
the major institutions. In 1997 a survey in the
United Kingdom showed that small and medium-
sized institutions were struggling to participate in the
computer-based description of their holdings.This
was even before they considered putting the output
of those holdings online. I would argue that this
should hardly be surprising as the heritage sector
has already been left behind in the development
of online information in the web-world.Too few
institutions have too little visible content that is
actually usable. If the heritage sector is to make a
near term contribution to the development of the
Semantic Web it is going to be very moderate. It is
very unlikely that developments will be related to
reasoning about the heritage in the ways considered
by Amann, et al. (2002).The ALM sector is more
than likely to participate in the development of the
Semantic Web through the creation of semantic
mark-up of information about access arrangements,
such as opening hours and details of facilities.This
information is more likely to be useful to the tour-
ism agent described by Tim Berners-Lee in his 2001
Scientific American article.While this may be a very
positive way of integrating the heritage into the
semantic web it does not maximise the potential
benefits.
The days when a curator who wishes to hold an
exhibition on the representations of Salome since the
15th century will be able to `load' an agent with the
request to identify, select, negotiate the loan of and
arrange the transportation of the key 100 works of
art are a long way off.The fundamental descriptions
of holdings are not currently available, where they
exist they are not online, and certainly have not been
semantically encoded to make them usable by our
Salome agent. For those who have worked on
Knowledge Representation the vision of the
Semantic Web holds promise. Knowledge Repre-
sentation is hard, especially if you intend any parti-
cular representation to be usable by others either as a
decision making resource or as for research purposes.
Efforts in the 1980s and early 1990s, such as those
in archaeology failed.The reasons Knowledge
Representation failed to achieve its promise ranged
from the poor quality of knowledge extraction
strategies, the lack of fundamental representation
methodologies, the limited applicability of methods
to knowledge domains, the problems of boundary
constraint and creep, to the high costs of developing
applications.The Semantic Web could breathe new
life into this earlier promise by providing ways to
carve up the problem while bringing us immediate
successes.