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published: April, 2002

© Archives & Museum Informatics, 2002.
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MW2002: Papers

netzspannung.org – A Collaborative Knowledge Space for Media Art and Technology

Monika Fleischmann, Wolfgang Strauss, Gabriele Blome, Jasminko Novak, Stefan Paal, Fraunhofer Institute for Media Communication, MARS-Exploratory Media Lab



Information about current projects, events and developments taking place at the interface of media art and technology can be found anywhere on the Internet. Since existing information channels simply concentrate on specific user groups,  virtually no cross-speciality, interdisciplinary exchange takes place.  The aim of netzspannung.org is to establish an on-line centre of expertise for media art, design and technology to promote an interdisciplinary exchange between art and technology. This in turn will make advanced media technology available as a highly productive resource for the world of art, and equally will make artistic strategies accessible for the development of media technology.

Keywords: netzspannung.org, interdisciplinary exchange, interface, media technology, media art.


In order to reach this goal, netzspannung.org is establishing a collaborative knowledge space for media art and technology, and is developing an infrastructure for networked productions. In specific terms, this means the establishment of a distributed, modularly-arranged infrastructure aimed at facilitating collaboration, the development of a knowledge map system as an innovative strategy for generating knowledge, and the provision of on-line workspaces for netzspannung.org’s users. The aim of this article is to introduce these modules.

In addition, netzspannung.org offers an open channel known as the netzkollektor. With time, this will develop into a showcase for contemporary media culture where artists, theorists, informaticians and curators can present their own current projects. Users can present "professional profiles" and, in doing so, contribute to building up a database of experts. These modules, which function as a producers’ gallery or producers’ agency, form a comprehensive pool of information and expertise in conjunction with netzspannung.org’s curator-based areas.

The modules aimed at facilitating networked production include eMUSE (the Electronic Multi-User Stage Environment), i2TV (the interactive Internet TV) and a mobile streaming laboratory. A software platform for theatre and dance productions, eMuse converts real and virtual space into a shared action space, thus providing a basis for trying out experimental media spaces.  The interactive Internet TV is a tool for implementing a conference format that includes on-line and on-site conference participants with equal involvement in the conference happenings. The streaming laboratory forms the basis for being able to use eMUSE and i2TV anywhere and for linking to the Internet platform. The modular structure of netzspannung.org’s system architecture also provides a basis for networked productions. Therefore, netzspannung.org is working on creating a collaborative knowledge space on the Internet, and linking this virtual knowledge space with real-time events. In this context, the streaming laboratory represents a facility for integrating new content into the knowledge space, while i2TV offers both the special Internet participation facilities for conference members and a truly special form of event documentation.

The Collaborative Knowledge Space

For netzspannung.org, the term ‘collaborative knowledge space’ is a multi-layered concept involving the productive interplay of previously discrete areas. The platform combines the production and presentation of artistic projects, editorial and open information modules, artistic approaches and technological research – all aimed at developing new forms of knowledge and new ways of presenting and discovering knowledge. One key question in all this is how existing archive and information pools can be merged to form a single, extended knowledge space.

To link the knowledge space set up by netzspannung.org with existing media-cultural archives, a technological solution has to be developed – an archive adapter – which will interlink various archives. Then comes the task of developing visualization models which will establish relationships among the various pieces of information and make them explorable. In this way distributed archives can be searched from a single point. To demonstrate this capability, netzspannung.org and the archive of the International Media Art Award (organized by SWR and ZKM) are currently connected.

By networking cultural institutions it is possible jointly to build up comprehensive information pools on artists and their work and to present the combineddata to the public. Information pools of this type essentially have an open structure which permits contributions to be made from outside and facilitates links with other disciplines. The extent of such archive networks requires new strategies  to make content more intuitive to explore and to provide users with points of orientation, possibilities for interaction and customized memory or "work" spaces. On-line archives and exhibitions on the Net should therefore be thought of as action spaces for users.

To link the various activities and projects in the fields of media art, media culture and media technology and create innovative strategies for forming knowledge spaces, a structure that can be expanded with other servers and databases is also needed. Instead of a centralized database structure, netzspannung.org is developing a distributed system. Its modular structure consists of a data level, an applications level and an interface level, meaning that netzspannung.org users are able to produce and participate on different levels – namely at the applications, interface or content level.

Below, the knowledge map system is described first. This is an innovative strategy aimed at creating links among content items. Two interfaces which use different principles to represent knowledge spaces and make them intuitively navigable are then introduced.

The Knowledge Map System

The interdisciplinary orientation of netzspannung.org makes it necessary to contextualize heterogeneous content from art and technology. The process of linking media-cultural archives also means it is necessary to systematize and visualize content outside of customized database structures. To manage the immense volume of information which arises when archives are linked together, a transparent and explorable visualization process, designed with growth in mind, has been developed.

In order to implement a system capable of meeting these requirements, netzspannung.org has incorporated the very latest research in knowledge management and knowledge discovery and has developed the Knowledge Map System. The technologies of the Semantic Web are used to automatically communicate between heterogeneous contents and the systematics of different archives.  Instead of firmly defined categories, a neural network generates clusters of related content based on the semantic analysis of texts. The objective is to identify and visualize inherent semantic structures in different texts and types of text (research reports, descriptions of art projects, theoretical texts).  As part of the multi-stage text analysis, the Knowledge Map System initially evaluates the relative frequency of individual words and translates these into vectors which are characteristic for each text. A neural network then determines the similarities among the vectors and provides a basis for graphic representation in a Kohonen Map. This representation forms the basis of the graphical user interfaces that open up and explore the underlying information pool. System-generated contextualization of content provides the basis for an open – i.e. augmentable – cartography which, in some cases, can reveal hidden relationships in an intuitive structure.

There are a number of factors that are crucial for building up a digital knowledge space.  These include the organization and structuring of knowledge and its implementation in a media-appropriate form. In developing interfaces for exploring collaborative knowledge space and identifying new relationships, it was important to incorporate the users’ cognitive level, the  recipients' emotional involvement level, and the visual communication level. The interface must make users curious and provide models that can be used to simplify complexity. After all, interaction is not just part of the reading process, but also part of the process of constructing meaning. Key importance therefore attaches to "staging" aspects when new knowledge forms are to be generated in non-linear structures. Thus netzspannung.org has developed two interfaces which support intuitive exploration of the cooperative knowledge space:  the Semantic Map and netzspannung.org/timeline.

The Semantic Map

The Semantic Map is a multi-stage interface which combines system-generated contextualization with traditional methods of systemization. The first application for the Semantic Map visualized all the media art, media culture and media research projects selected at the cast01//Living in Mixed Realities conference (http://netzspannung.org/cast01/semantic-map/index.html).

The overview of the Semantic Map derives from the Kohonen Map.  These maps are self-organizing neural  networks (Kohonen, 2001).  All the texts recorded by the system are presented in full view. This means that all texts are linked to all other texts and are grouped into clusters depending on their similarity. The contents of the clusters are outlined by displaying the most dominant keywords. When a keyword is selected, all the projects this keyword is assigned to are displayed, thereby allowing targeted navigation along individual terms.

The second navigation level places the individual project or the selected text at the heart of the representation. This "zoom view" displays contents related to the selected project, their relative distance from the project reflecting the semantic relationship discovered by the system. This is visualized in graphic form. A short distance on the graphic interface indicates a close semantic connection between the texts. This second navigational level also offers an entry point for users wishing to negotiate projects presented in the semantic map by starting with a project with which they are familiar in order to first get to know the environment of this specific project. The keywords assigned to the projects represent system-generated terms and terms which were given specific assignments at the input stage. Colour coding of the two keyword systems makes it possible to compare user-defined keywords with those generated by the Knowledge Map System.

The "zoom view" leads on to the third information level which provides more detailed accounts of the projects. At the current time, it distinguishes between brief information, content description, technical description and context, where the term 'context' covers exhibitions, research contexts, bibliographical references and references to related projects. It would also be possible, however, to output the data fields in a completely different interface and, for example, to focus on the presentation of audio and video files. 

In order to provide users with a means of orientation, navigation is maintained by the Semantic Map for the duration of a session and is documented as a trace in the overview. Projects once focused are thus highlighted and can be located with ease.

The Timeline Interface

The possibilities opened up by electronic media – in the form of hypertext and interaction – require the development of new concepts for timelines as graphic displays of historical developments along a time axis. An initial demonstrator of the timeline interface of netzspannung.org presented the contributions at the cast01 / Living in Mixed Realities conference, and was used as an interactive conference program guide. (http://netzspannung.org/cast01/timeline)

In contrast to the relationship with the Knowledge Map System, the y-axis categories of the netzspannung.org timeline interface are not system-defined, but are defined instead by the moderator and form the main framework for presenting a selection of projects. The juxtaposition of different themes creates a picture of the issues that are relevant at a given time. Navigation and scalability enable users to define their own points of focus when exploring a large data space. This need to establish an unambiguous assignment of projects to y-axis categories results in clearly structured content, but also represents the problematic nature of the interface. Unambiguous assignments are often difficult to achieve.

Flexible systemization of content is therefore provided on the second navigation level. Taking a selected project, it is possible for each specified keyword to generate a separate timeline which depicts in chronological order all projects  assigned the selected password. The netzspannung.org/timeline therefore contains a potentially unlimited number of time axes. The rigid systematization on the first information level is extended by flexible contextualization on the second navigation level.

The netzspannung.org/timeline is also the second interface of the Knowledge Map System. The clusters replace firmly defined categories, and the contents of the system-generated clusters are depicted in the chronological sequence in which they were generated.

On-line Workspaces

The concept of a collaborative knowledge space doesn’t just describe an innovative strategy for combining and contextualizing knowledge and making it explorable. To give artists, curators and interested users the opportunity to get actively involved in the process of generating knowledge and finding logical relationships, personal on-line spaces are provided.

In the initial phase, these offer users various facilities for modifying and extending their own contributions in the netzkollektor or in the database of experts. In a second phase, it becomes possible to set up a private information pool. Finally, the functions of the knowledge discovery interface – i.e. the visualization and contextualization of heterogeneous information, along with the ability to permanently integrate new data automatically – can also be applied to the private information pool. The knowledge discovery interfaces become tools in personal workspaces.

As a workspace tool, the semantic map will offer a facility for creating personal knowledge maps. The system-generated contextualization of content provides the user with an alternative view of the contributions he has collected. In specific terms, this means putting his ideas or selected projects in a new context and checking which links the knowledge map system reveals compared to the conventional perspective.

If the user does not agree with the assignment of one project to a specific cluster, he can assign the project to another cluster by moving the icon into another cluster or by generating a new one. This means that any users can extend the clustering found by the system  by including their own knowledge of relationships. This gives rise to personal knowledge maps which represent their creators’ points of view and knowledge. The system learns the changes made by users. If other projects are integrated into the semantic map, the system takes account of the users’ changes when a new project is being assigned to a specific cluster. The personal knowledge maps then become tools. With these knowledge maps, it becomes possible to navigate an unknown information pool by displaying the unknown content automatically in the user’s personal knowledge map. The knowledge map serves as a type of semantic structuring model which is applied to an unknown data pool and visualizes it automatically in user-specific structuring.

The combination of media-cultural knowledge space with personal on-line workspaces also provides a basis for developing new on-line exhibition concepts which link presentation space with personalised memory space when users create their own references or make comments.


On the one hand, the concept of collaborative knowledge space means linking existing media-cultural archives in a single information space and making the new construct searchable at one specific point. On the other, netzspannung.org is working in conjunction with media technology researchers and art-based strategies to develop new systems that automatically structure comprehensive information pools and make them navigable through intuitive interfaces. This represents a key approach for giving users the opportunity to enjoy active use of knowledge in on-line workspaces.

The described collaborative knowledge space model in conjunction with the i2TV system for connecting on-site and Internet participants, and the mobile streaming laboratory, provide a basis for new strategies of culture communication in networked spaces.


Kohonen, T. (2001).  Self-Organizing Maps.  3rd Extended Edition.  Berlin, Heidelberg, New York.