studies show how improvements in the ease of sharing materials and experiences enable
links between disparate spheres and disciplines to be forged and, given time, strengthened.
After reading the case studies and the scenarios, the changes that will be needed for
heritage institutions to take advantage of these developments should be clear.The main
problem is that the increased availability of resources does not necessarily mean better
resources, and better mechanisms of communication do not necessarily result in better
communications. Increased communication in a virtual world does not necessarily boost
the emotional or intellectual impact of artefacts or information, and may even enhance a
sense of alienation from the real world.The understanding of these issues will become
increasingly the responsibility of communication specialists, and organisations from the
cultural and scientific heritage sector must consider their options carefully in providing
resources of the best possible quality for these emerging and developing communities.
A n I n t ro d u c t i o n t o t h e Te c h n o l o g y
In his book Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte, founding director of the Media
Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claimes that:`Computing is not
about computers anymore. It's about living'. Communication between individuals and
groups has been transformed by the developments of new technologies.The emerging
technologies are changing how we communicate, who we communicate with, and what
we can exchange as part of our communications.The growth of dynamic, immersive, and
interactive virtual communities are one manifestation of the take-up of these collabora-
tive technologies.The term `virtual community'
is defined here as a network of indi-
viduals/organisations using digital technology to create, share, and exploit experiences
and knowledge. Often we tend to think of virtual communities in the context of popular
uses of online spaces for social interaction.The term `virtual community informatics'
denotes the design and application of ICT to support community processes. A special
area of concern within community informatics are practices causing the potential isola-
tion of large groups of people, also known as `the digital divide' between those who have
real access to ICT and are able to use it effectively, and those who do not.
nology Watch Report focuses on how the heritage sector can use collaborative technolo-
gies to create heritage environments that enable professionals and the public to interact
on different levels, share experiences, and develop communities of action and practice.
Communities tend to be built around two different `spheres' of purpose: knowledge, and
feelings/emotions. Shared knowledge in these communities encompasses know-how, learn-
ing materials, opinions (which may be contradictory), information on where to find
resources, and interconnections between information. Most participants have a willingness
to share the resources they bring to the community and a desire to use the community
to enrich their understanding.These groups engage people from distributed and often
distant locations (e.g. paper conservators or individuals with a interest in 16
242 Sometimes the term `online community' is used with a similar meaning. However,`virtual' and `online'
emphasise on different aspects presence in the real world and mode of getting together. In both cases the
idea beneath is that the community consists of members present in different places, and the connection is
done using computer networks.
243 See the DigiCULT Thematic Issue 5 on Virtual Communities, http://www.digicult.info/pages/Themiss.php
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