Virtual museums have come into existence as a result of the new technologies that have provided us with new ways of obtaining information and communicating. Such technologies have allowed us to establish new ways of visiting museums in a context where space limitations are eliminated due to the technological resources that allow us to incorporate certain cultural aspects that the traditional museum does not.
Thus, information and communication technology has been able to open museums to a myriad of new and different possibilities. Among these, we can highlight virtual museums (some as extensions of physical museums and others created exclusively for virtual means).
A virtual museum can be defined as a collection of electronic artefacts and digital informational resources. It can include photographs, drawings, texts, images, graphics, databases, paintings and so on. A virtual museum is essentially a collection of images and information saved on a server.
Virtual museums can be grouped into two categories based on their content:
- Those that exhibit non-digital artwork and mainly disseminate their collections through Internet portals. They may also offer updates about temporary expositions, educational activities as well as information about their location, schedule and price. This type of “museum on the Internet” can range from a digital version of the museum’s brochure to a technological infrastructure that allows museum goers to virtually explore the museum room-by-room.
- Those that exhibit digital works of art (net art, cyber art, web art, etc.) and bring us to the intangible environment located in the non-place known as cyberspace that includes specific technological and aesthetic characteristics.
Both types of museums are related to the concept of “net art or “net.art”. Thus, net art refers to the use of the Internet as a means of diffusion and/or exhibition of content usually found in a different setting. Net.art utilises the Internet itself and/or its content, at any level whether technical, cultural or social, as the basis of a work of art.
Implications of Technological Trends on Museums and Cultural Centres
Some of the most significant implications for virtual cultural centres and museums that come from the normalisation of new technologies are:
- Internet presence and development. Museums and art centres should not simply exist on the web—they should take care of and develop this resource so that they can provide a true service using the Internet as a tool. This entails:
- User support: Creating online channels specifically for attending to the public and answering to their needs.
- Channelling feedback: The way that information is broadcast and the way in which information is gathered through the use of social media.
- Creating content: It is becoming increasingly expected for cultural centres to use the Internet to announce their own news or news generated by third parties. This, however, is no longer enough as it has become increasingly necessary that the museum or cultural centre generate products (content) specific to its online community.
- Virtualise museum events: Stream conferences and events that happen at the museum. Record activities and transmit them through video channels, create files in text or audio format with information about the museum, create and share presentations, articles, photographs, etc.
- Mobility. Using the mobile phone to access the Internet is very common. Museums and cultural centres should adapt their websites and content to this need, facilitating accessibility through this means.
- Geolocation. Geolocation has become a valuable element for any entity especially since social networks based on geographic location like Foursquare, Facebook Places and Gowalla have become popular. Enhancing geolocation systems, facilitating their use in museum facilities through open wifi networks and being part of these particular networks is important for museums and cultural centres.
- Apps. Those who have smartphones use applications. Therefore, creating an app specifically about the museum that includes the exhibits, expositions, etc. is important for museums to offer. Most applications are created for iOS and, to a lesser extent, for operating systems like Android and BlackBerry.
- QR Code. QR codes are a type of two-dimensional barcode that, as opposed to conventional barcodes (like EAN-13, Code 39, UPC), contain information coded within a square allowing a large amount of alphanumerical information to be stored. QR codes are easy to identify by their square shape and the three little squares located in the top left and right corners as well as in the bottom left corner. Although QR Codes were originally intended to be used in the automobile industry, today they can be read by mobile phones and devices allowing places like museums and cultural centres many new possibilities for offering interactive reading, different forms of expression and a way to manage storage areas.
- Games. Online games that are characteristic of social networks are a trend that museums and cultural centres should follow as a way of diffusing content and gaining loyalty. To do this, games should be easy to use and not require that any additional software be downloaded. They should also be compatible with different web navigators and operating systems.
- Microsites. Microsites on the general website act as a point of information, diffusion and knowledge.
Virtual museums offer a new way to access culture not only for those who want to visit museums or cultural centres located in other cities, but also for people with disabilities who may experience difficulty accessing these opportunities. Thus, virtual museums are also a means of social integration.
Click here to see a list of some world-class museums that you can visit without leaving the house:
Have you had the opportunity to try the virtual museum experience? We’d like to hear what you thought! Don’t for get to comment!