DEAF_00 - Digital
Dive Workshop Online Archives
Rotterdam, November 15 - 17, 2000)
The DEAF_00 Digital Dive
workshop on online archives produced a productive discussion about the state of
affairs in the area of on-line databases, and how these can be applied and
developed within a cultural context. As the discussion clearly shows, a lot of
people expect an important part of future uses of the Internet will revolve
around or be supported by database driven on-line media.
Christian Hubler and Alexander
Tuchacek of Knowbotic Research had introduced their prototype for an evolving
on-line database system based on the Flusser Archive, recently donated to the
Academy of Media Arts in Cologne.
One of the main issues they are
concerned with in the creation of this system, which is still in a relatively
early developmental phase, is the potential of on-line databases to challenge
the unified perspective on a database set. Instead the on-line version of the
Flusser archive should allow for multiple viewpoints ("poly-perspectivity")
on the same set of data, multiple selections of information from that data set,
and novel user contributions to this set.
This is an ambitious program if
the on-line archive is not to succumb to arbitrariness. The solution to prevent
this problem is a rather surprising one. Instead of choosing a very complex and
elaborate technical architecture, Hubler and Tuchacek propose to work with a
social model, by creating an "invitation-network". The idea is that
researchers and other professionally involved users of the database create
subsets of the data-set that act
as local branches of a logical tree in the overall system. Once invited to the
network these users can in turn invite other people to join and thus create new
sub-branches within their own
branch in the overall system.
The crux of this approach is the
social factor, which has to ensure that only people with a real and viable
interest in the subject matter are invited to contribute to the architecture and
content of the overall system. This approach would allow for a relatively simple
technical architecture, which is open to new users / contributors and addition
of new materials, while the dedication of the participants should prevent >meaningless
extensions of the system. Furthermore, the local sub-branching structure will
allow for outside users to recognise the origin of certain local additions to
the overall system and data-set. Each local branch then represents a local or
personal viewpoint on the archive and its data set.
The notion of seeing database
practice primarily as a social practice is even stronger in the example of Orang
Orang, the on-line database for real-audio music and sound art works, and its
related systems the Open Video Archive (OVA) and the Open Meta Archive. All
these systems have been developed by Thomax Kaullman, who was formerly involved
with the creation of the community network Internationale Stadt Berlin and the
net.radio group Radio Internationale Stadt, also in Berlin.
In the case of Orang Orang the
database is contributed to and maintained by a large group of users (app. 200),
who are part of a rather closely knit community of musicians, sound artists, DJs,
organisers, experimental radio makers. The database resides on several servers
simultaneously that automatically update each other via the smtp-protocoll (e-mail).
The system relies entirely on a
local constituency, both in terms of the involvement of this local constituency
to create and maintain the database, but also to validate the objects contained
within it. During the discussion it was asserted that many organisations and
initiatives active in the field of connective networks now discover that a
dedicated user base is an invaluable resource.
In the case of "everything.com",
mentioned by Paul Perry, an on-line archive of *everything* is created. The
users of the archive rate the individual contributions, so it is easy to see
which entries are particularly popular or unpopular. A similar example of a user
rating system are the reviews of books contributed by individual users at
Important to note here is also
that Orang Orang is not a dead-archive, or an archive of dead art objects.
Instead it is created and continuously extended by a very alive community of
(sound-)artists who use the database as a tool for living culture, and
contemporary cultural production, rather than an archive for preserving cultural
heritage. The social dynamic of how the Orang Orang system is used sharply
distinguishes itself from the system mainly in view at the large scale
multimedia access cultural heritage programs that the EU promotes, such as the
within the MEDICI framework.
An important recurring question
for everyone involved with on-line archives, and especially the archiving of
on-line materials, or indeed on-line art works, is that of changing technical
standards. The rightful lamentations of computer users and new media arts that
they feel they have become slaves of updating already testifies to this. In the
on-line world this problem is even more severe.
The discussion of Rhizome's
ArtBase project, an online archive of Internet art projects, raised the crucial
question of what should actually be archived and preserved. Is it the works as a
whole, as accurately as possible? Or rather just the description of it, which
seems a more appropriate solution when the actual work involves real-life and
immediate social interaction? Or should a technical copy be stored as an
accurate simulation within a more up-to date technical standard? What counts as
a faithful reproduction?
Should the objects themselves be
archived or the meta-data? - in Rhizome's case the answer is: both!
In some cases, for instance with
the infamous jodi.org net.art duo, works are produced for a specific software
standard. One work of jodi.org actually exploits an error in the 2.0 version of
the Netscape web browser.
What is archived in such cases?
The work itself along with the viewing software, the work and the appropriate
plug-ins? What about the hardware?
The question of what to archive
in a technical sense leads over to the more general issue of selection. In much
of the traditional arts and culture field the identity of cultural institutions
and initiatives is not defined by their inclusiveness, but instead by their
careful and critical selection. In the on-line world everything, however, seems
to fall prone to the ideology of connectivity. It begs the question in how far
the seamless connection of on-line archives and databases is desirable at all in
terms of definition of identity, meaning and context.
Obviously the idea of
interconnection of archives and databases raises important technical questions.
First of all the question of shared standards that would allow for "interoperability".
The next, even more complex question is that of categorisation and standardised
key-words for database indexes. The same term might mean different thing in
- In the library world several
projects have been on-going, and with some degree of success, to create such
technical and semantic standards, and they are also applied there.
- In the museum world,
especially when art museums are concerned, there is much more resistance against
these seamlessly connected on-line archiving systems. Even when the willingness
is there for it, an appropriate descriptive systems that would allow for a
meaningful cross-connection of on-line archives is not as yet available or
- The next problem is that of
the development of a meta language that can create interchangeable descriptions
of information objects across different media types.
An important point is that 'local'
standards of meaning, within certain interest communities or geographies, should
not be automatically rejected. There is in the end no universally correct
description of an object and the fact that a specific description only
communicates within a specific local context still does not disqualify the value
of this description.
obviously, can also relate to dispersed special interestm communities.)
Another interesting point is the
use of intelligent agents as intermediary for complex information systems and
complex user requests. An example discussed was the proxy system (http://arts.uci.edu/agents
Research in this direction seems
to have died down a bit. The NIA (Naturally Intelligent Agent) approach, the
user as producer, instead seemed more popular or promising to the workshop
A final issue that should be
mentioned is the personalisation of data. By filing user behaviour data within
the database, a tailored service to users can be developed for recurring
visitors to an on-line archive. This profiling of regular users is, however, not
without privacy risks. The system amasses sensitive and highly specific personal
information about the profiled users, which is valuable in marketing terms and
a clear preference for anonymous systems above systems that identify individual
users should be a common concern here.
Some important on-line resources:
Open-Source Software Projects:
- Open Meta Archive (.de): http://meta.orang.org
- Mmbase (.nl): http://www.mmbase.org
- Zope (.uk): http://www.zope.org
- Code Zebra (.ca): http://www.codezebra,net
Cultural networks involved in
- Encart Network: http://www.encart.net
- Concept Intermedia Arts Online:
- European Cultural Backbone:
- Netspannung / CAT: http://www.netzspannung.org
Library & museum related
- CIMI: http://www.cimi.org
- International Council of
- International Federation of
- DLIB: http://www.dlib.org
- EU methodology web site: http://www.schemas.org
Eric Kluitenberg, Amsterdam, December 5, 2000.