| THE EVALUATION
The experiences of those involved in the creation of the Christmas
Traditions in France and in Canada virtual exhibition were recorded
and subsequently evaluated in order to produce a guide on the production
of virtual exhibitions which could be used by other institutions interested
in the creation of similar projects, particularly those involving
several collaborative and/or international partners.
A condensed version of the evaluation, Evaluating and Monitoring
the Internet Site "Christmas Traditions in France and in Canada"
version is now available on-line at the CHIN Web site (http://www.chin.gc.ca/Exhibitions/Virtual_Guide/indexa.html).
The complete hard-copy publication*
provides insight into projects of this nature (international and collaborative)
in which museums and technology merge/meet to produce a visually and
intellectually rich presentation that educates and entertains a large
audience via the Internet.
The production team evaluated the process of creating the exhibition
and the exhibition visitors evaluated the final product. The evaluation
process comprised questionnaires and interviews. The lessons learned
from the evaluation became the building blocks for the production
guide. The evaluation and guidelines are discussed in three stages:
planning, production, and post-production.
The two factors that play a large role in determining the success
of a project are, not too surprisingly, time and money. Given the
budget constraints and the amount of time available for the Christmas
project, much was achieved in a 5-month period. The positive feedback
and the huge number of Web visitors during the 8-week period around
Christmas attest to the popularity of the exhibition. It is, therefore,
critical to the success of the project to plan the project and budget
and to have enough time to seek adequate funding. It is understood,
however, that it is not uncommon for projects to receive funding with
a very short lead time, leaving little or no time for in-depth planning.
The budget should take into account on a daily, weekly and monthly
basis, the cost of the following budget items, which may vary from
one project to another.
.the key role of the cultural mediator or coordinator is
to build bridges between partners in both countries and act as a buffer
between the technical, thematic and general scholarly requirements
(storyboard and research limitations) and the intentions of the author-writers
(including all points of view).
.scholarly project leader
.responsible for the content of the exhibition
.curators and assistants
.technical project leader
.planning the day-to-day allocation and sequencing of tasks
as well as supervising the progress of the team for the entire duration
of the technical production of the project. The leader should act
as clearinghouse for all electronic files.
.scenario writer who has experience writing for the Web
.It is a major advantage to have computer graphics designers
on board from the start of the project. Their artistic and technical
experience can contribute design ideas, help develop navigation routes
and make decisions that will meet technical requirements. By being
involved from the outset, they become imbued with the "spirit" with
which the museum site was created and can thus contribute appropriate
and effective graphics.
.photographers (including processing costs)
.digitization (or CD-Photo orders) technicians who specialize in
.programming and production team
.committing the technical design of the project to paper
makes it possible to determine guidelines, type of tree structure
and program lines, exact sequencing of tasks as well as all the basic
limitations and decisions that are necessary as a result.
.translations must be by people who know the research vocabulary
well. This is an issue of scholarly accuracy that has an impact on
the credibility of the partner museums.
.additional documentary and iconographic research
.the timetable must also allow for unexpected contingencies
as well as for monitoring and authorizing work.
.monitoring and authorizing work
.Reproduction and performance rights, and copyright related
to the images, song lyrics and musical scores, should not be overlooked
when the project budget is set up.
.travel and accommodation expenses of partners and costs of communication
(telephone, mail, fax and electronic mail).
It is essential to have access to outside expertise, especially
from professionals in various areas of culture and publishing, to
help identify future partners and skills while at the same time creating
a support network for the project. Putting all the stakeholders in
touch with one another creates a strong network of partners.
One of the first lessons is the importance of allowing sufficient
time for the participants to become acquainted and develop the sense
of being part of a team. Part of this process involves recognizing
and accepting differing cultural perspectives and needs. The project
needs sufficient time to reach scholarly agreement on the content
before starting. It is this particular interaction that determines
how the partners and the various scholarly and museological points
of view will complement one another. Thus, prior to the project taking
shape, the team welcomed the opportunity for discussion and dialogue.
Given the logistics of the team as noted above, distributed in time
and space, the communications technologies (conference calls, e-mail,
fax) were essential elements that stimulated solid discussions not
usually possible using traditional means (i.e. regular mail).
The team members responsible for the content of the Christmas project
were experts in their fields but it was the first time that many of
them had worked on a Web-based project and they came to the project
with varying levels of experience in using the Internet. Some had
surfed the Net, were familiar with search engines, and had a certain
amount of awareness of Web aesthetics. Others were new to the Web
and learned as the project developed. Their enthusiasm and interest
motivated them to learn quickly. Giving each partner an Internet connection
and training in e-mail and groupware tools enhances communication
flow and effectiveness. Prior experience, including HTML, would ensure
a familiarity with the technology that would foster an awareness of
the possibilities and limitations of the Internet. Projects could
thus be planned with realistic expectations and time frames.
Agreement among the various authors on the design of the exhibition
and the target audience helps the team to write text in a more consistent
style. The suggestion that hypertext links should be used may seem
a good example to follow. Shorter texts can be used, even though the
final assembly of all the contributions may require the addition of
text to create links. Simple hypertext markup software is already
As participants pursued their exhibition planning, it became evident
that Internet-based exhibitions offer a flexibility that encourages
experimentation and dynamism. Participants in the project learned
that writing for the Web offers different challenges and opportunities
from preparing a traditional in-house exhibition. The Internet allows
visitors to select the level of information they wish to consult,
thereby offering something to audiences of all ages and experience.
The challenge for the team members was to prepare layers of information
that increased in complexity. The fact that the on-line exhibition
could be linked to relevant and complementary information available
at other Web sites further underlined the flexibility and possibilities
of this new medium.
When planning a virtual exhibition, a number of factors normally
considered in actual exhibitions become irrelevant: international
boundaries, customs procedures for the movement of works of art, design
of exhibition space, loan agreements, insurance policies, conservation
work, transportation time for works of art, fixed hours of operation,
and number of visitors that can be handled simultaneously. Internet-based
exhibitions, complete with dozens or hundreds of images, can be achieved
in a shorter period of time and at considerably less expense than
an actual exhibition or than a CD-ROM. Given the absence of these
constraints, the team had time for rigorous debate on the issues of
cultural diversity in time and space in the history of the countries
and cultures of the participants, and on the approach to the subject
The digitization parameters should be decided at the outset in the
interests of uniform image quality. Decisions should be made quickly
about image resolution, about whether full-screen images are to be
used, about the size of the blow-ups and the image files, as well
as about the number of images per screen. These decisions, along with
whether the digitization will be done in-house or contracted out,
will have an impact on the costs and the final product. At the time
of the evaluation, the majority of cybernauts were using a standard
35 cm (14 inch) screen. Images should be digitized and adjusted for
the current standard, unless a zoom function can be provided to show
details. To speed up downloading time, a small thumbnail image that
displays quickly could be created, from which full-screen enlargements
can be called up.
-Provide for two or three face-to-face meetings at strategic points
during the project.
It is essential to provide for a temporary work in-progress site,
available only to partners, so that each party can see the work as
it develops, approve it or make suggestions in full knowledge of what
is going on.
When technical tasks are shared by two countries or institutions,
two stand-alone and matching work sites can help to make the project
a success. However, remote work techniques and groupware are making
multidisciplinary work and file exchange increasingly easy.
(Style and Tone of Text)
Texts are often written by museum curators or researchers for an
institutional site. They are designed to convey scholarly information
and often adopt the neutral style of scholarly publications. They
should be reworked afterwards in collaboration with a museum educator
and a specialist in writing for the Web rather than by the museum-authors.
Scholarly texts, which tend to resemble traditional museum catalogues,
can be adapted to the "look and feel" of the Web environment given
the appropriate amount of time and funding. Comments from Web visitors
reveal a saturation threshold that precludes lengthy texts that have
a formal, scholarly tone in favour of a personal tone and an emphasis
on images.Visitors appreciated hypertext links from the introductory
paragraph to subsequent paragraphs.The scenario should integrate scholarly
textual and iconographic material as well as suggestions for ways
to navigate through it.
By working with the graphic artist, the cultural mediator, and the
producer from the start, the texts can be produced to reach the audience
HTML limitations required simple lines and primary colours, while
computer graphic elements added clarity and highlighted the text.
Icons should be readily identifiable original images or images from
Opinions of the site visitors were divided and demonstrated that
the graphics presentation will not find universal appeal. Several
visitors commented that the Christmas colours and the graphics were
simplistic, while others described them as appropriate. Generally,
visitors looked for graphics that were less decorative and more meaningful.
These are images that serve as links between pictures or text. Image
captions should be laid out on the text page beside the miniature
pictures to which they correspond or should be integrated into the
text of the scenario in such a way that the text/image link is made
immediately explicit. Visitors expressed their desire for captions
that provided details on the origin of objects, collections, the medium,
Hypertext is a word or group of words that serve as links between
texts or images. In multimedia applications, writing must be divided
into sections and simple ideas must be expressed in single sentences
requiring brevity and precision. If there are many lines of text,
the reader should be able to return to previous pages without having
to go back to the Home Page.
The production team learned from site visitors that images should
be of high quality and plentiful and should be the focus of the exhibition,
with texts playing a supporting role. Most users remember mainly the
images after their visit. Full-screen displays, however, require patience
while the user waits for the images to download. The annotations and
captions may contain hypertext links and/or allow access to other
images that can be viewed on-site or in "virtual reserves".
An important lesson learned concerning images and preparing the
texts during the course of the project was to allow sufficient time
early in the project to select the images. The corollary is that sufficient
time must be allowed for the research. It is crucial to complete the
selection of images at an early stage because of the time needed to
settle rights agreements, to digitize the images, to create the captions,
and to design the screens and create the links. Image digitization
should be carried out as quickly as possible before programming begins:
the final choice of which images to include with texts cannot really
be made without knowing how the image will look on-screen when it
is the size of a postage stamp. A database makes it possible for available
images to be identified and indexed together with all their captions,
from which the scholarly committee can then make selections.
One should allow for two months of intensive iconographic research
in order to document 150 to 200 images. The results depend, however,
on expertise in the subject, the sites to be used, the number of museums,
the work of the scholarly project manager, as well as the time needed
to obtain images and the authorization to use them. Iconographic and
content research should be carried out simultaneously because this
can be very time consuming. The use of thumbnails is important because
of the speed of downloading.
Living traditions will require on-site reports, hence the need to
provide cameras, video recorders and even sound recording equipment.
During iconographic research or the photo shoot, thought should be
given to choosing objects that might serve as graphic window-dressing
for the site after the pictures have been cropped, set up and keyed.
Having a variety of ways to access the same content enhances broad
access to the information. Partners should plan the most effective
way to combine multiple points of entry and different methodologies
(e.g. theme, time period, image, specific topics or keywords).
(Structuring the Documentary Database)
Although users thought that the hierarchy was well constructed and
understandable, they usually returned to the Home Page to continue
browsing. They would have liked to see the hypertext words in a menu.
Publicity in traditional media (daily newspapers, trade magazines,
radio or television broadcasts, museum events: such as a virtual exhibition
launch, a link to a real-life exhibition etc...) is critical since
the Internet is still relatively underdeveloped and under used.
Has the virtual exhibition been a success? Did it achieve its objectives?
The project achieved many of its aims and the producers learned from
the experience, to the benefit of the museum community.
The international team worked successfully together: it created
the exhibition and became more experienced in working with the medium,
indicating that a similar result would occur with others. The team
members gained the experience in combining their different methodologies
and found that the medium allowed for these differences. What might
have clashed in a print medium became, in the virtual exhibition,
points of entry for site visitors who were thereby offered ways into
the project that met their particular points of view.
The theme, presented with many images, allowed visitors to navigate
through layers of information to meet their interests and needs, thus
attracting a wide range of age groups and interests.
Positive feedback from around the world demonstrated that the exhibition
was highly popular. The CHIN Web server experienced a huge increase
in hits - up to 2 million - for the 8-week period around Christmas
of 1997. The Christmas Traditions in France and Canada virtual
exhibition was designed to appeal to everyone. The project was a success
in the sense that users did not identify a special audience. Everyone
felt they were included and thought that the site had something of
interest for all audiences. The inclusion of different cultures is
also an important feature, especially on the Internet, which is an
international network. The cultural curiosity of cybernauts may well
The Internet requires interactivity as well as a dynamic relationship
between the object that is delivering a message and the concentrated
text that is expressed in very few lines. The medium allows for audience
interaction and visitors should be given the opportunity to add to
the exhibition, or create their own. Additional time and resources
would have allowed for components such as interactivity, additions
to site, creation of links to other Web sites, and sound and video,
and for more in-depth research into the theme and into determining
the target audience.
Users expressed a desire to hear Christmas songs and music and to
that end visited the pages on Christmas songs and carols. Users pointed
out, furthermore, that sound and excerpts from interviews were dynamic
elements that could lighten the daunting effect of too much text,
which can make the experience more like reading a dictionary.
(The Christmas Theme)
User interest waxed and waned depending on the time of year they
chose to visit the site. The number of potential users is tied to
the marketing strategy. Using a film clip on the Internet, advertising
in newspapers, specialized magazines and other media can reach potential
The wording of the title expresses what the field of information
is and the approach being taken. It means that users do not have to
waste time looking for a piece of information that is not there.
The new technologies permit a much broader, global distribution
than the conventional in-house exhibition, video, or CD-ROM. A Web
site can be visited at any hour of the day, in any time zone and from
any computer that has an Internet connection. Visitors can find the
exhibition through various means, including knowing the URL, following
links from related sites, or using a search engine.
With on-line questionnaires and e-mail boxes, visitor feedback is
immediate. Given the response time and the user-friendly programming,
the virtual exhibit can be modified, either by adding or deleting
data or by modifying existing information.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD VIRTUAL EXHIBITION
A virtual exhibition site, like a museum, should make its collection
and knowledge accessible to the general public as well as specialist
audiences. The site may also encourage people to visit the museum
because they can learn about the museum and the activities it provides.
Based on the experience of the production team and on the results
of the evaluation, elements of a good virtual exhibition include:
- providing an opportunity to visit museum exhibitions more than
- allowing for surprise and wonder, and promoting dreaming and creation;
- giving an overall impression of the site on the Home Page;
- updating the site on a regular basis to attract visitors and keep
them coming back;
- using source material provided by the medium to enhance meaning;
- displaying images that can be used on the Internet;
- designing the project like a research tool;
- providing access to normally inaccessible documents;
- ensuring research projects have international dissemination;
- "hooking" visitors by making browsing pleasant;
- touching users' emotions;
- providing the opportunity to prepare people for a visit to a museum
It is thus desirable to:
- create a Home Page index, and
- lay out the Home Page graphics on a page-screen in such a way
that users do not have to scroll down the page to access the suggested
The exhibition planning raised important questions about the nature
of an exhibition: are virtual exhibitions "real" exhibitions or are
they a hybrid of traditional and multimedia? The team sees these questions
as part of a developing discourse that as yet has no solid answers.
*Publication available at CHIN: email@example.com
(free of charge while supply lasts). Return
Last modified: March 19, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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