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challenge. Is the application of the term museum
on the Internet by entities outside the museum
profession to be welcomed and guided, or is to be
shunned and ignored? The controversy is visible in
the discussion of the next revision of the ICOM
definition of museums currently under way on the
ICOM-L e-mail discussion list.
The ICOM General Conference in Barcelona
is relevant to the present discussion in one further
regard. It was on that occasion that a newly created
top-level Internet domain exclusively for the use of
the museum community was launched. Details about
the history and purpose of .museum (`dot-museum')
have appeared in several articles in venues supported
by the European Commission, Directorate-General
Information Society, and elsewhere, and will not be
repeated here.
he Domain Name System is one of the most
fundamental elements of the Internet.The
decision, taken in late 2000, to add seven new top-
level domains to it was a major development.The
recognition of the museum community in the
process was a profound statement about the high
regard in which the Internet community holds the
heritage management sector. Although some of the
more daunting hurdles along the path initiated by
this action were not immediately apparent, one was
abundantly clear from the outset.The Internet people
assumed that the museum community embraced
born-digital activity, and that the normative basis for
inclusion in the .museum domain would allow for
the recognition of eligible entities, regardless of the
extent to which their activity overlapped the
boundary between the physical and digital realms.
This was, however, not reflected in the .museum
Charter, which bases domain policy on the ICOM
definition of museum, extended as might be neces-
sary for the operation of the domain, `provided that
any such extension is in accordance with community
perceptions about the prevailing scope of the field of
museum activity'. It was thus possible for born-digital
action to be included in .museum whether or not it
was explicitly recognised in the ICOM definition.
Before dealing with this externally to the ICOM
document, and in light of the attention being paid
to intangible cultural property, an attempt was made
at wording the revised definition in a manner that
would serve both purposes.The resulting clause
was taken to have done precisely that, even if it does
not make direct mention of virtual museums.The
subsequent .museum policy statement recognises
`entities that conduct qualifying activity in born-
digital contexts but do not operate physical muse-
ums', but distinguishes between them and `physical
museums that also operate digital museums'.The v-
word makes its sole appearance in the naming rules
that are applied to the first of these categories, which
must `register in the generic second-level domain or in an unambiguous equivalent,
such as, or'.
This policy is a compromise. On the one hand,
excluding born-digital activity from something as
utterly digital as an Internet domain is oxymoronic.
On the other hand, the perceptions of the profes-
sional museum community are fundamental to
.museum policy. Since the inclusion of digital-only
museums in the pre-existing museum community is
clearly a subject of debate, means were provided for
their special identification in .museum.This passed
almost entirely without comment from the museum
establishment, but was a subject of complaint for its
discriminatory nature by digital-only museums.The
next .museum policy revision will probably be more
accommodating of entities that do not operate
physical museums but conduct Net-based activity
which is otherwise indistinguishable from that
conducted by bricks-and-mortar museums. (A dis-
cussion of what the relevant evaluative criteria might
be would require more space than is available here.)
Quite a bit depends on the extent to which the
Archived at
A review of the
underlying goals was
included in
DigiCULT.Info, Issue 3, pp.
24-25, February 2003,
From: The Steel Band,
story contributed to
Moving Here by
Ms Brenda La Rose,
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