Museums and the Web 1999

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Published: March 1999.


Cooperative Visits for Museum WWW Sites

Thimoty Barbieri , Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Paolo Paolini , Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Francesca Alonzo , Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Giuliano Gaia , Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnica, Italy
Paolo Loiudice , Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Session: Socializing Virtual Space

3D interactive interfaces for museum Web sites have sometimes been advocated, but never became really popular. Several reasons have contributed to this lack of success: lack of (serious) 3D for low-medium range machines; cost of development; poor visual quality (crucial for museum applications); lack of real added value (why should I do it?). As matter of fact "traditional", 2D, multimedia sites is what is currently available. New technical developments, such as VRML (or 3DJAVA, in the near future), are slowly changing the situation: cost is not an issue anymore; the technical quality is becoming reasonable. Still, as it was shown also at the 98 version of this conference, there is still a lack of real motivations to go 3D (in an interactive way).

In this paper we argue that, cooperative visit could add a decisive motivation. Most of the visitors don't go by themselves to "real" museum; they go with friends (or guide), they talk to each other, they teach (or listen to), they point to exhibits, they follow each other, etc. etc. So there is a complex human interaction, making the experience much more rewarding. The main point of the paper is that adding the possibility of having several "virtual" visitors visiting (from different locations) the same machine, interacting each other, as they do in the real word, can make a virtual visit much more interesting and rewarding.

The paper will discuss a prototype developed using a special technique developed at the HOC laboratory of the Politecnico of Milan: VRML-TALK. VRML-Talk is an authoring technique which allows to develop custom 3D environments in which actions and situations can be shared throughout a computer-based network. The VRML-Talk makes use of standard web-based Internet/Intranet technology. It is composed of a VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) graphical engine and a Java-based TCP/IP (the Internet Protocol) communication layer. The two elements are executed together from a single web page which can be browsed with a standard Internet browser such as Netscape. A central server takes care of distributing the events and managing the connections to the cooperative virtual environments. The server application is also written in Java, and can be run on any kind of platform supporting a Java Virtual Machine.

When the system is active every single action performed by the user of a 3D virtual world is sent to the server, which broadcasts the event to the other clients, so that the action is propagated to all the other users. Each user can "see" the position of the other users, being represented by avatars. Also a user may look at a world "through the eyes" of an other user.

The paper will be presented by demonstrating the effectiveness and the appeal of a demonstrator, that uses VRML-Talk in the context of a (fictitious)museum site. In other words a cooperative visit of several user to the same site will be shown.


[Gar93] Garzotto F., Paolini P., Schwabe D. "HDM - A Model Based Approach to Hypermedia Application Design". ACM Trans. Inf. Syst., 11 (1), January 1993.

[Gar98a] Garzotto F., Matera M., Paolini P. «To Use or not to Use? Evaluating the Usability of Museum Web Sites». Proc. of Museum and Web'98 Conference, Toronto, Canada, April 1998.

[Gar98b] Garzotto F., Matera M. «A Systematic Method for Hypermedia Usability Inspection». New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia. In print. Proceeding of SIGGRAPH-98, ACM, Orlando Florida, July 1998