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Cultural Agents
and Avatars
content and contacts. Integrated solutions will continue to grow in popularity and in the
imaginative new uses to which they can be put. It may be worth bearing in mind that
such an intensely personalised user experience may lead to a form of profile-driven isola-
tion and eventually a narrowing of personal experience opportunities.This is an issue that
requires more study.
Skin Technology
The advent of skin technologies, user-defined interfaces to standard applications, gives
personalised richness. `Skins', as they are commonly known, are often found for media
players such as Nullsoft's WinAmp and Microsoft's Windows Media Player, as well as
IRC instant messaging clients.
Skins essentially act as stylesheets governing the delivery
of standard content from the content provider's server. Factors such as font types and
sizes, graphics and music will differ according to the skin chosen by the user. Skins may
also act as filters, keeping certain elements of the content hidden if the user has indicated
no wish or need to see it.
While their appeal has traditionally lain mainly with the youth/novelty market, skins
have recently been deployed to worthwhile effect in libraries, allowing different groups
of users (e.g. engineers or historians) to interact with a single library system via a dedi-
cated `theme' skin. Applications of this kind are designed to increase user comfort while
they navigate a system, and to help them to find relevant resources both locally and on
the Web.
The University of Tennessee Library has used VTLS Chameleon Web Gateway
technology since 2001.Their system employs over twenty-five different skins which can
be selected according to classes of user interests, and which change with the seasons. If
users wish, music can be selected to accompany the skins.
Chameleon uses CSS along
with HTML, but there is a growing tendency towards the predominance of XML.
's Horizon Information Portal, for example, uses XSL (Extensible Stylesheet
Language) in conjunction with XML-encoded content.
Skin authoring is widespread among the user communities of media players and chat
clients, composed traditionally of young and technically competent users.The technology
is not easy, and the development of dedicated library portals/skins will require greater
knowledge of interface design on the part of library staff.
This may be an area where
the outsourcing of development work is beneficial.The same approach can be used to
modify avatars, with different skin textures applied to a single underlying model to create
a variety of characters and identities.This is most widely experienced in God games such
as EA Games' The Sims.
106 Dynix HIP: N.B.
Dynix formerly traded as Epixtech, and the HIP product was formerly known as iPAC.
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