2nd Culture.mondo International Roundtable
Dubrovnik, Croatia, 20-22 October 2006
Co-organized by the Culture.mondo and Culturelink networks
Cultural Portals: A New Era of Cooperation
In cooperation with Culture.mondo, an informal network of cultural portal experts based in Canada, Culturelink coorganized an international round table entitled 'Cultural Portals: A New Era of Cooperation'. The round table was held in Dubrovnik, Croatia from 20-22 October 2006.
The rapid development of the Internet has deeply affected the contexts in which the cultural sector has been operating, creating the need for a continuous analysis of emerging changes and evaluation of new virtual structures and cooperation paradigms. This has become a rather complex task, as it requires an understanding of technological issues, the organization of knowledge and content, as well as the aims of diverse fields within the cultural sector and cultural policies. Hence, the topic of digital culture is widely discussed at numerous conferences. By cooperating in the organization of this event, we strived to achieve a synergy of the existing expertise that both partners involved in the project have gained through their previous research activities in the field of digital culture. The aim was to promote continuity in generating and disseminating knowledge on topics of digital culture, sharing it among representatives of concrete virtual projects presented at the event.
Some 50 participants attended the event and represented over 40 cultural portals from all parts of the world: from Europe and the USA to Canada, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Australia. This diversity enabled a productive exchange of experiences and vibrant discussions. The cultural portals represented at the event can be roughly divided into two main groups: those aimed at wider audiences with a general interest in culture, and others targeting specific user groups like artists and cultural professionals (i.e. portals which are managed by cultural networks). The event served as a platform for the presentation of specific portals and discussions on various aspects of the main topic, ranging, among others, from new Web 2.0 technologies to virtual cultural networks, virtual international cultural cooperation and the measuring of success through an evaluation of portal activities. The event's agenda reflected the complexity of the operational contexts of cultural portals.
The session on Web 2.0 technologies and the new opportunities they bring met with a strong interest from the participants. This new generation of web technologies offers new options and possibilities for cultural portals, enhancing their democratic capacities through open communications, free information exchange and decentralization of creating and using content. Still, new possibilities also force us to think about new contexts, requiring us to bring them into balance with our own editorial policies and the roles of cultural institutions in these changed conditions. Questions arose on whether there was a need for an institutional preservation of content authenticity and what the best ways to adapt to the emerging cultural changes were. It was recognised that this new generation of Web technologies still is not widely spread and used.
Significant differences are visible in the extent of technological infrastructure available to existing portals. Thus, this topic was of great interest to participants who had a chance to learn about new opportunities brought on by Web 2.0 on the basis of concrete examples. On the one side, the application of new technologies and accompanying knowledge determine concrete practices of cultural portals, but, on the other side, equally important elements of success are the methods of organizing information, which also determine the content of the portal. It is impossible to separate the organizational aspects from the content itself (the final portal product) as it is directly influenced by them. Different examples showed how organizational aspects influenced the success of particular projects. For example, terminologically controlled dictionaries used in museums can stimulate or destimulate users' access to information, as was shown through the interesting example of the Australian cultural portal. Through discussions of Web 2.0 technologies, the round table participants had the opportunity to get acquainted with existing technological advancements/facilities such as the Flicker service, MediaWiki, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, etc. All of the mentioned new methods propose new ways of information organization and offer cultural portals interesting possibilities of their further development in the building of their services.
New possibilities brought by Web 2.0 will reflect on the ways we communicate and cooperate in virtual space. By analysing present practices in the virtual space, it was evident that the cooperation of portals with their users and partners itself forms a basis for success. Yet, at this stage, there are very few collaborative projects that are jointly developed by two or more portals. The Internet has again been confirmed as a good medium for information sharing and exchange, but actual cooperation activities in the network environment require changes in the working practices, which are yet to happen in cultural institutions. This was demonstrated through theoretical and practical input to sessions that revealed the importance of the organisational and communicational logic implemented by portals.
How to evaluate and measure one's own success was the topic of the round table's last session. An evaluation is needed in order to identify which services are useful to the users and how portals meet their aims and objectives, as well as determine their target audience. Cultural portals are defined by a business framework which sets the scope of their activities. Three perspectives of measuring success have been identified: editorial, marketing and financial. This was recognised as a very relevant topic, particularly because numerous portals are encountering financial difficulties in sustaining their operation, despite large users' bases and high content quality.
Through discussions and presentations, the participants had the opportunity to exchange their experiences and learn about new operational methods. This is of great importance, given that events like this one are rare occasions. In the concluding remarks, it has been noted that, in addition to their core user groups, cultural portals are attracting an increasing number of users which use portals as resources in the planning for their tourist activities, hence, there is a definite market niche to be filled in the register of heritage and cultural tourism. The round table's final session provided input for the further development of the Culture.mondo network, so that a community of practice may emerge. In order to further promote the exchange of knowledge on relevant issues, the Culturelink Network is planning to publish a book of papers and articles on cultural portals – all round table participants have been invited to make a contribution with their papers.
Culturelink received support for this event from the Croatian Ministry of Culture, the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports, the Croatian Tourist Board and the Council of Europe. Technical support of the event was provided by T-Com, the Croatian Telecom.
Maria del Pilar Gonzalez, Coordinator, Culture.mondo Network Secretariat, 15 Eddy Street, 8th Floor
Gatineau QC, Canada K1A 0M5; tel.: +001 819 953-6989; fax: +001 819 953-4330; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.culturemondo.org or
Culturelink Ntwork / IMO, P.O. Box 303, Lj. F. Vukotinovića 2, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia; e-mail: email@example.com; http://www.culturelink.org/culturemondo.html