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F
UNCTION AND FOCUS
D
igiCULT, as a support measure within the
Information Society Technologies (IST) Pro-
gramme, provides a technology watch mechanism
for the cultural and scientific heritage sector. Backed
by a network of peer experts, the project monitors,
discusses and analyses existing and emerging techno-
logies likely to benefit the sector.
To promote the results and encourage early take-
up of relevant technologies, DigiCULT has put in
place a rigorous publication agenda of seven
Thematic Issues, three in-depth Technology Watch
Reports, as well as the DigiCULT.Info e-journal,
pushed to a growing database of interested persons
and organisations on a regular basis. All DigiCULT
products can be downloaded from the project
Website http://www.digicult.info as they become
available.The opportunity to subscribe to
DigiCULT.Info is also found here.
While the DigiCULT Technology Watch Reports
address primarily technological issues, the Thematic
Issues focus more on the organisational, policy and
economic aspects of the technologies under con-
sideration.They are based on the expert round tables
organised by the DigiCULT Forum secretariat.
In addition to the Forum discussion, they provide
opinions of other experts in the form of articles and
interviews, case studies, short descriptions of related
projects, together with a selection of relevant
literature.
T
OPIC AND CHALLENGE
T
his fifth Thematic Issue concentrates on the
question of how heritage institutions might
benefit from fostering virtual communities related
to core activities such as exhibitions, educational
programmes or in support of scholarly communities.
In recent years `community' has become the
buzzword of the Internet.Through community
building many commercial online players hope
to attract customers to their sites, `sell eyeballs'
to advertisers, or reap subscriber fees. But apart
from niche areas such as search communities
(e.g. Classmate.com) or some successful online
universities, the commercial vision of virtual
communities has failed to materialise. As an analyst
from Forum One consultancy bluntly declares: `Most
online community sites are not economically viable
and never will be.'
1
However, virtual communities continue to boom.
A scan of Big-Boards.com's overview of 360 large
international online forums on the Web
2
reveals a
high propensity of forums concentrating on video
games, computer-related topics, cars and music.
Vault Network, based on role-playing games
discussion boards, demonstrates the level of activity
and reach with 70,707,941 posted messages from
415,349 members. Another example is Apolyton,
with 2,346,204 messages from 45,041 members
sharing an interest in Civilization games.The
Apolyton Website, founded in July 1998, is also
`dedicated to the continued storage and retrieval of
the most comprehensive collection of Civilization-
related material on the Internet'.
3
Other large forums
include: Hardware.fr (computer hard-/software);VW
vortex (Volkswagen and related car brands); and The
Bridge (Dave Matthews Band). Not to mention the
highly active communities devoted to Tolkien's Lord
of the Rings trilogy, or in the categories comics, online
art, philosophy, culture and politics, architecture or
tropical fish.
There is a growing volume of evidence to suggest
that cultural heritage institutions' adoption of virtual
communities in support of cultural history, genealogy,
performing arts, design, monuments, literature, film
or digital art works will broaden the reach, value and
relevance of cultural heritage. Linking the collections
and work of heritage institutions with virtual
communities will considerably change the way we
access, communicate about, share our understanding
of, and participate in the experience of cultural her-
itage (for illustrative examples, see also the case
studies in the chapter on virtual community technolo-
gies of the forthcoming Technology Watch Report 2
4
).
But, for most cultural heritage institutions, the
challenge will first be to embrace the idea of co-
operating with a (non-professional) online com-
munity, and then to nurture an evolving and
thriving community that crosses the virtual as
well as physical space.
DigiCULT 5
I
NTRODUCTION AND
O
VERVIEW
By Guntram Geser
1
Jim Cashel:Top Ten
Trends for Online
Communities (2001),
http://www.online
communityreport.com/
features/10
2
http://www.big-
boards.com
3
http://www.apolyton.net
4
These case studies will
concentrate on the eStage
puppetry community
Website, http://
www.epuppetry. com, the
Urban Tapestries project on
location-based wireless co-
creativity and collective
memory building,
http://www.
proboscis.org.uk/
urbantapestries/, and the
multi-user networked
environment Vroma, which
concentrates on the
teaching and learning of
Latin and ancient Roman
culture, http://www.
vroma.org
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