Kim H. Veltman


“Culture, Creativity and the Internet”

Continuity and Change, Die Schmiede, Hallein, 11 June 2005.
Published in: Prospective de l'Internet - Foresight of the Internet: Digital networks as structuring tools for the Knowledge Regions, Actes du colloque, Marie-Anne Delahaut. Ed. Préface de Viviane Reding, Postface de Markus Kummer,  Namur: Institut Destrée, 2005, pp. 365-394.

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Much has been written on links between 1) electronic media and culture; 2) electronic media and creativity, 3) internet and creativity. This essay suggests that the future lies in a convergence of these three areas. To deal with these new developments we need not only digital libraries but also virtual reference rooms and virtual agoras. Involved is much more than a simple translation from analogue to digital. The new technologies are bringing an era of augmented reality, which brings with it new combinations of real and virtual, physical and digital. Implicit is an expansion of the concept of culture beyond tangible or intangible to include combinations of tangible and intangible. 

These new kinds of cultural expressions require new kinds of collection, conservation, storage and display strategies, new search engines, and new kinds of virtual agoras, wherein they can be compared, shared and developed. Ultimately the challenge of online depositories goes beyond making accessible either universal paradigms (theorems, algorithms) or their particular expressions. They need to be accessible multi-lingually and multi-conceptually, There is also a need to use the diversity of expressions as a point of departure and inspiration for new expressions. Creativity is not simply a question of creation out of the blue (creation ex nihilo). It is a challenge of drawing on the cumulative memory of civilization to generate new ideas and expressions, of using the continuity of past ideas as a starting point for future expressions. Parallel with trends to convergence at a technological level there is thus a trend towards convergence of research on a) digital libraries, b) virtual reference rooms and c) new collaborative work and creativity spaces (virtual agoras). A combination of these three points to a Distributed European Electronic Resource (DEER), which could lead in the long term to a World Online Network of Distributed Electronic Resources (WONDER). In a sense this is also the vision of President  Chirac who wants a European counterpart to Google. At the same time it goes further by suggesting that Europe’s sense of its past is a key to its future identities and expressions.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Electronic Media and Culture
  3. Need for Distributed Electronic Resources
  4. Internet and Creativity
  5. New Kinds of Cultural Expressions
  6. Virtual Agoras
  7. Virtual Model and Pattern Books
  8. Conclusions

1) Introduction

Links between 1) electronic media and culture; 2) between electronic media and creativity, 3) between internet and creativity are often discussed. A key to future research and creativity lies  in new combinations among these three. Even before the Internet existed, Paul Otlet (1935) had a vision:

Man would no longer need documentation if he were assimilated into an omniscient being - as with God himself. But to a less ultimate degree, a technology will be created acting at a distance and combining radio, X-rays, cinema and microscopic photography. Everything in the universe, and everything of man, would be registered at a distance as it was produced. In this way a moving image of the world will be established, a true mirror of his memory. From a distance, everyone will be able to read text, enlarged and limited to the desired subject, projected on an individual screen. In this way, everyone from his armchair will be able to contemplate creation, as a whole or in certain of its parts. [1]

By 1943, Paul Otlet foresaw a machine to imagine the world (machine a penser le monde), whereby knowledge and information could be made accessible to persons from all over the globe. Ivan Sutherland, one of those connected with the early Internet, wrote his thesis on a Sketch Pad (1963) that would allow one to develop ideas on a computer screen. This vision, via the Evans and Sutherland software, led to a multitude of sketching, drawing and designing tools. In parallel, there have been a multitude of editing, video editing, multimedia production and post-production tools. [2] At the level of commercial design, manufacturing and professional film and television production these tools are being used in online networks and linked with visions of grid technologies. The challenge remains to make these materials available for personal and collaborative research and creativity.

2) Electronic Media and Culture

For at least 35 years, memory institutions (museums, libraries and archives) have been engaged in a gradual process of “translating” first their catalogues and increasingly, the contents of their collections into electronic, digital  form. This process has proceeded at two levels: 1) At a low level, minimal information from library, museum and archival catalogues is being made available online through the regular internet [3]; 2) the same memory institutions have also been engaged in high level cataloguing and digitisation of their collections. Whereas the low level versions have been made accessible by Internet, the high level versions have remained in house and inaccessible for research and creativity.

Twenty years ago there were simple technical reasons for this discrepancy. When the European Commission launched early projects such as Remote Access to Museum Archives (RAMA, 1990), high speed networks were not yet in place. Today, with the TERENA and GEANT networks this is no longer an obstacle, although many challenges in terms of the last mile, last kilometre, or even last hundred yards remain.

Today the major obstacles to sharing are psychological and political. Institutions are rightly concerned about making their high level texts and images generally available on the Internet. [4] At the same time, these resources are of enormous interest to the research community where such problems of trust and commercial gain are not really an obstacle. A network of research institutions, bound by codes of honour and a basic agreement to use materials only for research will have a great impact on the advancement of research and creativity.

3) Need for a Distributed Electronic Resources

If technical reasons were once the chief obstacle to this vision, today, the technical dimension  provides unexpected new reasons for networked sharing of resources. Initially the experiments in memory institutions involved small amounts of material, backups of which involved only a few discs. This has changed dramatically. By 2000, the Library of Congress was involved in backups of 40 Gigabytes daily. The C2RMF’s European Research Open System (EROS) today entails over 15 terabytes. There is an urgent need for online frameworks, which ensure offsite backups a) to ensure permanency of the new resources for our collective memory and b) to ensure that these materials become available to researchers in order to make the European Research Area into something more than a vague political slogan.

A practical way forward is to combine the results of research projects [5] and make these available to the research community. Combining the resources of such specialized databases and collections will provide researchers with the cumulative results of numerous research efforts and thus provide an important stimulus for future research. These results include both new facts and new analytical methods which will lead us to reassess anew the meaning of cultural objects. The proposed European University of Culture based at Paris 8 (Saint Denis), is an obvious home for such an effort. This provides an initial base of four universities: Bologna, Berlin Paris, and Madrid, which can be gradually expanded to include members identified by E-Culture Net.     

Virtual Reference Rooms

Putting these materials on the equivalent of an intranet for researchers is a necessary first step. Unlike traditional memory institutions, which typically had their catalogues in a single language, the new distributed resources need to be available multi-lingually at a new level,  reflecting not only all the languages of the resources, but also the many languages of their users. The EROS database offers very impressive, practical demonstration of these potentials. The Accès Multilingue au Patrimoine (AMP) [6] group have outlined further dimensions in this process, which need to be integrated with the more recent MICHAEL [7] initiative.    

Needed is work on new kinds of virtual reference rooms, whereby the knowledge and information of databases such as EROS, becomes linked with classification systems, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, bibliographies and other reference materials associated with    traditional reference rooms in major libraries. In  the longer term, these virtual reference rooms need to do more than provide multi-lingual access to resources. They need to offer access to different knowledge structuring systems, knowledge systems (world views) and enable a balanced comparison of their approaches. We are confronted by an important choice: Either we remain limited to metaphysical and potentially physical wars concerning a dominant and domineering paradigm. This path tries to reduce diversity to a single unity. Or we develop tools to bridge between different world views and different ways of knowing. This path leads to a unity of diversities (cf. Ruffolo[8]) and is perhaps our only hope for real tolerance in a world, where many cultures are a reality.

3) Electronic Media and Creativity

While one community has focussed on new digital access to our collective memory through memory institutions, another community has been working on new creativity. The advent of word processing tools led to rhetoric that everyone could potentially become an author. Similar rhetoric is associated with new tools in other domains, drawing, multimedia, video and film editing and post-production tools. The experience of history allows us to look more soberly at such rhetoric. The number of Dantes, Shakespeares, and Tolstoys has remained small compared with the great number who were able to write. Even so the challenge remains to encourage talent such that the number of authors major and minor will continue to increase.    

Personal Creatvity

Many tools for personal creativity exist. Often these are subsets of very expensive commercial software developed for the military or industry and often even the prices of these subsets are beyond the range of artists. An excellent overview of developments is provided by the Centre Pompidou’s Encyclopaedia of New Media. [9] Such new media expressions fall into two main categories: a) those which are neatly contained on a computer screen and b) those which are installations. Inevitably both categories of expression typically involve specific hardware and software that reflects the limitations of technology at the time they were made. For conservators this poses enormous challenges in terms of conservation and continued access. Meanwhile, although progress has been much slower than visionaries such as Douglas Engelbart hoped a half century ago, commercial tools are becoming ever less expensive while
the number of freeware and Open Source tools available for creativity continues to increase. [10]   

Collaborative Tools

In industry and the military there are many tools for collaborative design and work. There are also a number of commercial games for collaborative play. At the research level, there are numerous projects for collaborative work, Even so, collaborative play and creativity tools are not yet readily available to private groups. This is one of the challenges for the next decades.  One interesting development in this context is the Hyperfun [11] project, which entails interactive Function-based Shape Modelling and has projects on virtual embossing, virtual carving, virtual sculpting and painting [12]
The problem is not simply a technical one. Major hardware and software firms continue to assume or at least hope that they will control the digital production chain and are thus creating frameworks that would exclude the contributions of individuals. Major film production studios (e.g. Hollywood) and major television and broadcasting companies (e.g. the BBC) also have aspirations of controlling the same digital production chain. These interests are bound to remain. We need to explore new models, which enable large commercial visions and small group activities to develop in parallel and mutually stimulate one another. Increasingly such efforts will shift from work on isolated machines to a networked context wherein internet and creativity are integrally linked.

4) Internet and Creativity

Again, at the commercial level this is already a reality. While Hollywood continues to be an important address for film production, through the realities of a networked world, there are over 300 post production houses in Toronto (e.g. Side Effects [13]) linked directly with Hollywood. Increasingly these post production houses are being moved to more distant time zones such that work can continue during the day elsewhere in the world, while it is night in Los Angeles. As a result work on productions can continue 24 hours even though most of the home team works a regular 8 hour day.

In Europe, there was a vision of doing something similar, which proved premature: of reviving the Babelsberg studios near Berlin in a networked environment. [14] At the level of the European Commissioner there was a vision of Minister Oreja, to create a Film and Television Network for the whole of Europe. [15] Recently European Ministers of Culture met in Cannes to discuss potentials of the Internet for the European Film Industry. [16] The traditions of film production especially in France, Italy, Spain and Germany predate those of Hollywood. In the new Europe they entail larger audiences than the North America and hence there is no reason why they should not become as important as their U.S. counterparts.

In parallel with this, projects such as Archeoguide have been exploring how one can use augmented reality to superimpose virtual reconstructions of temples and other buildings on actual ruins in physical landscapes. This principle can be extended to include multiple interpretations of the same temple, such that one can compare Greek, American and French reconstructions of the same monument. Major television studios such RAI (working with CINECA) have been exploring the potentials of using blue rooms to link television footage of such archaeological sites with virtual and augmented reality reconstructions of the same. In future, such combinations could potentially become an important new source for e-learning. Students would not just read about Pompeii. Virtual environments would link television documentaries and reconstructions to give students a vivid impression of such historical sites.

These developments also offer important new possibilities for new creativity. With respect to texts we have a well established tradition which distinguishes sharply between a) copying without acknowledgement (plagiarism) which is undesirable and b) citing, or alluding to bits of other works (especially via quotes and footnotes), which is one of the central activities of both scholarship and new creation. Dante is not just a great writer because he works in isolation: he builds on the traditions of the Bible, Virgil and a range of other classical authors.

Major filmmakers such as Lem, Tarkowski, Kurosawa use such techniques. At a banal level, some Hollywood spoofs such as Spy Hard do the same. The news media are constantly lamenting the dangers and realities of piracy (wholesale plagiarism of copying complete pieces). But to date we have no regular equivalent to quotes and footnotes in everyday multimedia. Being able to quote from a picture, a video, film, or television programme as easily as we can quote from a written text would greatly increase the range of an author’s creativity and lead to new kinds of expression multi- and inter-media expression.  

Major television companies are slowly becoming aware of these potentials. For instance, the  BBC has established a Creative Archive Licence Group [17] which potentially offers new possibilities for a) broadcasters, b) small production groups (the SMEs of creativity),  c) researchers and d) creative individuals. These latter groups will bring new understanding concerning what has been done in the past and provide new creative expressions in the future.      

In Europe, developments in memory institutions have traditionally been treated quite separately from developments in the audio-visual (radio/television/film) sectors. Historically, the political advantage of this distinction was that one could insist on separate rules for creative industries (exception culturelle [18]) from the everyday forces and taxes of the commercial marketplace. In a digital world some dimensions of this distinction remain valid. At the same time, there are new challenges to extend the range of contents from memory institutions to include audiovisual media: music, radio, video, television and film. Only in so doing can we increase the range of our collective memory to include the whole gamut of expressions.

5) New Kinds of Cultural Expressions

Entailed in these developments is something considerably more profound than a process a) of translation from analogue digital or b) of making these results available online. Traditionally cultural expressions were thought of in terms of concrete, tangible expressions: i.e. in terms of paintings, sculptures, monuments etc. Over the past 30 years, UNESCO has made us aware of the importance of intangible heritage in the form of language, music, dance, and other customs. Accordingly culture was thought of as being either tangible or intangible.

Developments in new media are challenging these distinctions and indeed making them obsolete. By the early 1990s, Mark Weiser (Xerox) had introduced the idea of ubiquitous computing, while Leonard Kleinrock (UCLA and DARPA) introduced the idea of nomadic computing. These approaches led to the idea of pervasive computing, grids, notions of Intelligent Information Interfaces and Ambient Intelligence. By the early 1990s also, pioneers in interface design such as Bill Buxton (Toronto, Xerox PARC, Alias and SGI) and Hiroshi Ishii (NTT, Toronto and MIT) were exploring tele-presence and how images of objects could control and interact with physical objects both on-site and at a distance. This convergence of real and virtual space inspired a trend towards combinations of visual and haptic interfaces. The Tangible Bits Lab (MIT) was one of the first significant results. For almost a decade there was a welter of discussion and debate concerning artificial reality, virtual reality, mixed reality. Most were concerned about how real or unreal the new technology was. In 1997, Adrian West (Manchester) posed a different set of questions. His DEVA (Distributed Environment for Visualisation Applications) applied to the theme of Fishcages explored:

the idea of environments that impose behaviours on their contents. This is akin to specifying the properties of time, space and physical laws for a particular universe. The complexities of such laws are limited by the computational resources available to impose them. Any object placed within such an environment has these laws and behaviours imposed upon it. We believe this approach will make it significantly easier to create a range of complex virtual environments. [19]

The demonstration showed how different contiguous environments could each have their own laws of physics. The fish in a tank were subjected to the gravity and properties associated with water. If one moved outside the tank one was subject to the regular gravity of a room etc.  Conceptually this introduced the idea that multiple environments, in addition to being of different shapes could entail multiple laws of physics.  

Meanwhile, by 1996, Steve Feiner and his team at Columbia University, in conjunction with the U.S. Office of Naval Research, had begun working on a Mobile Augmented Reality System (MARS). [20] In less than a decade, augmented reality emerged as a thriving new field. Philosophically, augmented reality transformed the either/or discussions of real/virtual to both/and discussions. The physical object remained and superimposed upon it were various virtual images. This introduced immediate practical applications in the military [21], manufacturing [22] and medicine [23], where physical operations could be complemented by knowledge and information on virtual screens. 

The advent of augmented reality has brought new meaning to the idea of interactivity. The traditional notion of human machine interaction (HCI) is being transformed into new kinds of interactions between real (physical) and virtual (digital) objects. As always there are precedents. Almost a half century ago, Joseph Svoboda  was exploring the interplay between live theatre/dance and film in his Laterna Magica (1958), an idea that was further explored by Hollywood in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1984). Augmented reality goes further by removing the distinction between physical and virtual. For instance, in the Mandala system by Vincent John Vincent’s Vivid Group (Toronto), a physical person beats virtual images of drums and causes physical sounds. [24]

In Japan, Hirokazu Kato [25] (Osaka University) has created an Arttoolkit which is inspiring a number of new creations around the world. Projects by Brett Sheldon [26] at the HIT (Human Interface Technology) Lab (Washington) entail combining real and virtual objects. At the same lab, Mark Billinghurst [27] created a Magic Book, whereby a physical book is augmented by virtual objects that jump out of its pages. He has pursued this idea in the Black Magic [28] project at the HIT lab in New Zealand,  where virtual ships literally pop out of the pages. Romoki Saso [29] (Keio University) has created a Little Red Riding Hood in Cyberspace now on display  at Ars Electronica (Linz). In Britain, Patrick Sinclair [30] (Southhampton) has used the Arttoolkit to create a triplane with labels over interesting regions and is exploring Virtual Object Manipulation in Augmented Reality (VOMAR).

Oliver Bimber [31] (Bauhaus) is exploring various new potentials of these technologies. He is studying virtual showcases, which also entail real players interacting with a virtual chess player, an idea that Zsolt Szalavari [32] (TU Wien) is exploring in his Collaborative MaJong project. Oliver Bimber is exploring Extended Virtual Tables, Superimposing Pictorial Artwork with Projected Imagery, Augmented Reality Digital Storytelling, Combining Optical Holograms with Interactive Computer Graphics, Interacting with Augmented Holograms. Meanwhile, Raphael Grasset [33] (Grenoble) is studying a Multiuser Augmented Reality Environment (MARE) and a Cooperative 3D Augmented Reality Environment Collocated on a Table [34]. Werner Wohfahrter [35] (TU Wien), Dieter Schmalstieg, and Miguel Encarnaçao (Fraunhofer),  have produced a MediDesk for Interactive Volume Exploration. Eric Ferley [36] (Grenoble) has been working on Virtual Sculpture.

Adrian David Cheok [37] (Mixed Reality Lab, National University of Singapore) goes further. He is using the idea of Arttoolkit to take actors captured as 3D models from multiple cameras, to overlay them onto a marker, to create a Magic Music Desk, whereby virtual images of physical actors interact with virtual drums to create physical music through a virtual band. His Augmented Aibo project explores interactions between a robot toy and its virtual counterpart. His 3D Live Movie set plunges images of physical characters into virtual environments. His Virtual Interactive Theatre and Free Network/Floating Network explore interactions between virtual markers/objects and the physical world. 

Aoki Takafumi [38] (Tokyo Institute of Technology) goes further still with his Kobito Virtual Brownies, Here virtual objects or rather virtual creatures are occluded by images of real/physical objects, and these virtual creatures can move physical objects. New techniques such as Retro-Reflective Projection Technology by Susumi Tachi [39] (Tachi Lab, Tokyo) effectively permit us to see through physical persons. This effectively removes the occusion principle that underlies all perspectival representation since the Renaissance. Philosophically this is important because it transforms earlier rules of opaqueness and transparency: it allows physical objects to become transparent and thus has profound implications for how we see and represent persons and objects in the physical world. At an immediate level this points to invisibility cloaks which have great interest for both the military and entertainment of the Harry Potter variety. In the longer term, this raises many new questions about the visible world, about  relations between what we see and what is there, and ultimately about the whole process of artistic representation and creation. In a world with Retro-Reflective Projection Technology, the visible reality of the physical world has a new meaning, and the challenges of artistic expression are changed.  

In Amsterdam, Federico Bonelli and Maurizio Martinucci (aka TeZ of SUb Lab) have created Protoquadro,

PROTOQUADRO (neologism derived from the greek "protos" meaning "first" and the italian "quadro" meaning "painting") is basically a model for automatic creation of ever-changing animated audiovisual compositions starting from original thematic source materials (video, photographs, audio samples). The result ("canvases") can be ouput on different formats. In particular we stress the idea of the uniqueness of the "moment" in which the PROTOQUADRO develops itself and it is perceived by the viewer. [40]

Protoquadro, which is a combination of quadrophonic soundscape and Generative Digital Painting heralds a new class of artistic expression where the resulting artistic object is ancillary rather than central to the artistic exercise. It is the process that counts not the product. This principle applies to the category of generative art as a whole.

In the past culture was a simple challenge of collecting, conserving and showing physical products such as paintings and sculptures made by a specific author finished on a given day in a specific place. Increasingly, the new expressions of art are both physical and virtual, they are multiple, do not depend ultimately on the individual’s intervention, could happen at anytime and are not restricted to a given place. What will posterity need to conserve of such expressions? Is merely the code enough? Are the specific examples produced/generated by the algorithms significant in their own right or could/should these ultimately be discarded as random expressions of the system?      

All this does not render less valuable great expressions of the past, let alone threaten to replace them. What it means, however, is that there are whole new areas of concern for conservators and restorers. It is not just a matter of collecting and conserving tangible or intangible expressions of culture. Increasingly there is a new challenge of collecting and conserving new combinations of tangible and intangible, new combinations of real and virtual, of physical and augmented expressions. The challenge lies not only in sharing products but increasingly in sharing the code that generated the products, almost as if the emphasis were shifting from creations and products to creators and producers.       

6) Virtual Agoras

To meet these challenges it has been suggested that we need a digital equivalent to a virtual agora. This goes far beyond the idea of a digital commons. Virtual agoras will allow individuals, groups and companies to research, explore, experiment, create and produce either individually or collaboratively. The COLLATE project points to these possibilities. [41] A whole range of activities will be involved. Some will be similar to those of going to study in a traditional library or archive except that the range of materials will be vastly larger. Others will entail collaborative ventures for fun or entertainment. Others will be like joint experiments, like virtual shopping, like design teams, some like large scale production projects. Some of the activities will be free. Other services will cost money. Some will make money. Of particular interest to us is that some will lead to new creativity.

7) Virtual Model and Pattern Books

In our view, an essential ingredient for this new creativity lies in a new synthesis between the three parallel trends outlined above, namely: 1) between electronic media and culture; 2) between electronic media and creativity, 3) between internet and creativity. It is not just a question of creating new expression, collaboration and creativity tools. It is a challenge of using examples of the past as a starting point to new creations in the future.

In Antiquity, imitation (mimesis) was not just the best form of flattery: it was a key to creating masterpieces. The Middle Ages had developed the idea of pattern books and model books, which could serve as a basis of new creativity. With the rise of printing during the Renaissance this principle was developed and extended. First, scholars and artists studied, copied and reconstructed Roman ruins. These were then reproduced in collections, as model books which were used for new combinations, versions and expressions.

The 19th century began to take stock of this heritage. Owen Jones’s great Grammar of Ornament provided an overview of the enormous range of patterns from different cultures. In the 20th century the artist Maurits Escher explicitly used Arabic patterns from the Alhambra as a starting point for his own creative expressions.   

 In industry these principles of copying as an incentive to new creation are being applied on a number of fronts. In the textile industry in both Europe and Japan, the patterns of textiles are being digitized and combined in new ways to create new textile patterns. This principle could be applied to the whole of the decorative arts. One could imagine a digital Owen Jones which uses the enormous range of patterns from different cultures as a starting point for new combinations and expressions. 

In architecture, AutoCAD’s Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) have introduced the idea of standard modules that can be shared world wide. This approach provides us with the automated equivalent of universals such that we can generate “intelligent” doors or windows that “know” what structural properties they need to be valid from an engineering standpoint. Hence a door in a wooden cottage will inevitably have different physical properties than the door in a skyscraper.  

However, if we are to avoid the boredom of an homogenous world, if we are to have a world with the richness of diversity, then we need more than universals. We need the particulars of individual doors recorded in our memory institutions. These can occasionally be copied, but they can also be adapted, cited, quoted and alluded to in creating new variations as all the major styles have done in the past. Simply to copy a Renaissance or Art Nouveau style may be necessary when restoring a building in that style. But when we are creating new buildings more creativity is possible and desirable. As such the wealth of our memory institutions is much more than a reassuring evidence that we have done great and memorable things in the past. Our memory institutions are a key to ensuring that we are not constantly re-inventing the wheel, that we have a cumulative sense of our achievements and that we can use this to create new expressions in the future. A society of plagiarists must be avoided. A society of creative quoters, adapters and transformers is a key whereby cumulative memory leads to new creativity and whereby this creativity in turn contributes to a growth in cumulative memory.      

8) Conclusions

Many assume that the so-called digital revolution is little more than a translation exercise whereby we take our existing analogue projects and translate them into digital form. This essay suggests that much more is involved. At a low level, many results are becoming accessible on the everyday internet. Meanwhile, in terms of high level research most of the results of the past decades have remained locked within the institutions where the research took place and inaccessible to researchers elsewhere. There is an urgent need for a new kind of intranet whereby the results of this research can be shared by a trusted community of scholars, bound by a code of honour and formal agreements to use the materials strictly for purposes of research. A next step will be to open this to the creative community.

We noted that these new links between: 1) electronic media and culture were paralleled by links between 2) electronic media and creativity, and 3) between internet and creativity. We suggested that the full potentials of these developments required a new synthesis between the three trends. This implies an integration of 1) digital resources (digital libraries and archives, virtual museums); 2) virtual reference rooms and 3) a virtual agora where such materials can be shared by individuals, groups for research, work and leisure.

In the E-Culture Net vision these three elements can be combined to create a Distributed European Electronic Resource (DEER) [42] and serve as a first step towards a World Online Distributed Electronic Resource (WONDER). This combination will enable multi-lingual, multi-conceptual access to knowledge in ways similar to President Chirac’s vision of a European version of Google. In addition,  this vision is guided by a simple idea: that change and continuity are complementary, that examples from a cumulative, collective memory are both a safeguard against reinventing the wheel and a stimulus for ideas which build on the past to create memorable new tangible things and intangible expressions in the future.

Tallinn/ Maastricht,   May 2005.  

I am grateful to Franz Nahrada for his stimulating ideas in this domain, to Frederic Andres (NII) for helpful suggestions and to my student Nik Baerten, especially re: the reference in footnote 7. I thank Alexander Bielowski warmly for an opportunity to develop these ideas.

1. Paul Otlet, “Monde: essaie d'universalisme -- connaissance du monde; sentiment du monde; action organisée et plan du monde,” Brussels, Editions du Mundaneum, 1935 cited in UIA, “Paul Otlet's 100-year Hypertext Conundrum?”
For more recent visions see: Stephan Merten, “Wizards of OS 2,” 23 August 2001. “Open Cultures & Free Knowledge.” International Conference at the House of World Cultures, Berlin, 11–13 October 2001:
See also his important work on Project Oekonux
Important also is the work of Stefan Meretz, “Open Theory” and , “Open Theory Vienna”;
There are also efforts towards open design: Bitscope Designs, “Open design”, Sydney and even an  Open Design Alliance, “Open DWG”

2. Almost a half century later, file formats still typically conflict, tools are still incompatible and even operating systems have difficulty in being interoperable. The promise of fully interoperable tools available anywhere, anytime sometimes seems more of a receding vision than a imminent reality. Even so there is progress. SVG has effectively solved the challenges of 2D drawings. New developments which will bridge raster and vector formats promise radical new solutions in the 3D domain. AutoCAD’s Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) have introduced the idea of standard modules that can be shared world wide. Having cultural and historical variants of such modules will be a next step.

3. In the earliest examples in the late 1980s and early 1990s this occurred in terms of individual collections. The past decade has seen an increasing presence of national union catalogues. Here Germany, France and Italy have been pioneers. National libraries linked with the Research Libraries Group (RLG) have made steps in the direction of the equivalent of a union catalogue at a global level. The G7 pilot project, Bibliotheca Universalis and the Gateway to European National Libraries (GABRIEL) had parallel intentions. These efforts are now being consolidated in The European Library (TEL) project. In the museum world, there are  similar trends. Here the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC), which combines evidence from over 1100 institutions is the most obvious example. A next obvious step will be new bridges between collections from libraries museums, and archives. This synthesis promises to make available to the general public worldwide, the low-level texts and images of memory institutions, much in the way that Google does today, but then with more ordered search criteria.

4. It would plunge them into many, complex copyright problems and deprive them of possible revenue sources. In the anonymous context of a global internet, no framework of trust is in place that users will deal honestly and fairly with the materials. Moreover, the institutions argue that the immense detail of their collections would not even interest the general public.

5. E.g.  EROS (Louvre, Paris), CEEC (cologne), NUME (Bologna) and SANTI (La Coruna).

6. Bruno Helly, Christoph Wolters, “Accès multilingue au Patrimoine (AMP)”;


8. Giorgio Ruffolo, “The Unity of Diversities - Cultural Co-operation in the European Union,” Edited by the Parliamentary Group of the PSE, European Parliament, Firenze, Angelo Pontecorboli Editore, 2001.


9. There is a good website on generative art ( a useful conference by the same name. Institutions such as the Banff School, Ars Electronic and the Zentrum für Kunst und Medienforschung (ZKM) provide artists with a chance to live in residence and meet fellow artists.


10. Some examples of open source developments include alternatives to :
map software 
For a serious list of such alternatives see: Jama Poulsen, DebianLinux.Net, “Freedom”



13. Side Effects:

14. Babelsberg:
The vision is not dead. Babelsberg has produced over 3000 films including Jackie Chan’s Around the World in 80 Days. 

15. Report from the High Level Group on Audiovisual Policy chaired by Commissioner Marcelino Oreja, “IV. From the Command System to Free-Market Competition: the Prospects for the Audiovisual Industry in Central and Eastern Europe.”


17. Creative Archive Licence Group:

18. Exception culturelle:

19. Adrian West et al., Fishcages: A DEVA Application

20. Steven Feiner, Tobias Höllerer, Elias Gagas, Drexel Hallaway, Tachio Terauchi, Sinem Güven, and Blair MacIntyre,  MARS:

21. E.g. Dragon Battlefield Visualization System

22. E.g. Randall Smith, Visualeyes: EVL/NEWS/index.shtml
E.g. Double Augmented Reality, Siemens Corporate Research:

23. E.g. Andrei State, Surgery and Virtual Book, Brown University

24. Vincent John Vincent, Vivid Group, Mandala System:

25. Hirokazu Kato:

26. Brett Sheldon

27. Mark Billinghurst, Magic Book, HIT Lab, University of Washington: magicbook/media.html

28. Mark Billinghurst, Black Magic, HIT Lab, NZ:

29. Romoki Saso, Little Riding Hood in Cyberspace, Keio University Inakage Lab, Ars center_projekt_ausgabe...

30. Patrick Sinclair, Arttoolkit Triplane with labels over interesting regions:

[ref31" name="_edn31 Oliver Bimber, Bauhaus:

32. Zsolt Szalavari,  Collaborative MaJong, TU Wien: research/vr/gaming/mah-jongg/

33. Raphael Grasset, (MARE) Multiuser Augmented Reality Environment:

34. Raphael Grasset, Cooperative 3D Augmented Reality Environment:
Collocated on a Table, PhD thesis from ARTIS-GRAVIR/IMAG-INRIA, April 2004: 2003/

35. Werner Wohfahrter, Dieter Schmalstieg, Miguel Encarnaçao,  MediDesk, Interactive Volume Exploration, TU Wien:

36. Eric Ferley, Sculpture Virtuelle, PhD thesis from INPG , September, 2002:

37. Adrian David Cheok, Magic Land, Mixed Reality Lab, National University of Singapore:

38. Aoki Takafumi, Kobito Virtual Brownies, Tokyo Institute of Technology:

39. Crystal Vision RPT (Retro-Reflective Projection Technology)  Tachi Lab, Tokyo:

40. Protoquadro:
We believe that causality, in the form handled by computer software (randomness) is not the most appropriate form of unpredictability for the aesthetic necessities of a generative digital composition. Moreover we perceive the actual artistic intentional action behind the composition of a painting as important as its aesthetic appeal. In our eyes the ideal PROTOQUADRO should be the result of an intentional creative process, to which the techniques chosen, the emotional expression and the perceptive environment should be equally relevant. This leads to the algorithm that rules, as a pictorial law of evolution the painting: NG# NG# is based on the numerological internal dynamics of the ancient symbol of the enneagram and on numerological process of strings in feedback with colors in the canvas. To achieve the necessary espressiveness that is needed for a pictorial intention, a set of photographic images are used as the base for the painting. The result is a three-dimensional ever changing canvas, of which one of the dimensions is time.
Cf. /a>


42. Suzanne Keene, Francesca Monti, “The DEER: Distributed European Electronic Resource.”
Final Report, 2003. In: E-Culture Net: Work Package 6, Deliverable 11a. IST-2001-37491.