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container.They either reflect or retransmit radio-frequency signals and, like barcodes, can
be linked to databases such as library catalogues or museum collection management sys-
tems. As well as being used to improve the handling of the objects themselves, they can
be used to manage visitor or user access to information about the objects and this is
especially true in the context of mobile access devices. In the introduction to Issue 5
of the DigiCULT.Info Newsletter we described how heritage institutions might use visitor
RFID cards in combination with geographical information systems (GIS) and CCTV
recordings to distil moving image footage of individual visits--`automatically generated
museum visitor video ethnographies'. New technological applications would be needed
to automate the linking of the RFID time codes (giving the position of the target at any
point in them) with the time codes on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) recordings to
extract automatically the moving image sequences related to each visitor.This combina-
tion could also be used to facilitate interactivity between objects and users of mobile
devices. In this ways RFID, mobile device, human computer interaction, and virtual space
technologies can be brought together to deliver highly immersive distributed experiences.
Increasingly we recognise the central importance of the social space, context, and
interactivity that lie at the heart of the Internet.The physical and the virtual worlds are
often contrasted, with the virtual world and its cyberculture viewed as uniquely different
from `real-world culture'.While it is true that there are characteristics of cyberculture
that set it apart from more traditional measures of culture, the boundary between the two
worlds has never been precise and continues to blur.The evolution of virtual social,
information, and economic spaces has demonstrated this with remarkable clarity.We are
all aware that the Internet enables individuals to share experiences, create social bonds,
and construct `imaginary communities' that take on social and cultural fabric. It is a fluid
environment, as anyone who has read Sherry Turkle's early 1990s study Life on the Screen
and attempted in the past two years to investigate some of the same phenomena she
describes will know. New spaces and practices are emerging all the time, older ones are
disappearing, and it is transforming the ways we participate and interact. Avatars are vir-
tual representatives of human users in virtual environments, often sharing space with
agents, which represent computer processes or programs.These technologies can enhance
our use of both collaborative environments and mobile devices.They offer a social
dimension to the computer-based communication processes.
Avatars and agents utilise similar three-dimensional graphics and animation technolo-
gies, making them seem vivid and appealing.They can be made to `speak'. Combined
with haptic interfaces, avatars can be used to study three-dimensional objects, such as
sculptures and other artworks. In such cases, the user sees his or her avatar in the virtual
space, and can gain the impression of touching virtual representations of the objects.The
use of avatar and agent technologies is most beneficial in cases where the nature and
quality of communication between users (or between users and the software) is crucial.
In the cultural and scientific heritage sectors, agents are an increasingly popular option
for tour guides in virtual exhibitions.Their use allows new approaches to the presenta-
tion of a collection, allowing for the personalisation of virtual tours by matching them
with visitors' profiles. Case studies in this section provide an insight into the uses of
avatars. For example, the Peranakans Project deals with culture, history and education,
with the avatar guide being used as an immediate, visual and identifiable conduit for
learning about different ways of life.
The ORION (http://www.orion-net.org) study of user practices and needs uncovered
Introduction
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