Museums and the Web 2005
Sessions: Abstracts
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Speakers from around the world present their latest work at MW2005.

Search Engines and On-line Museum Access on the Web

Jonathan Bowen, London South Bank University, United Kingdom
Silvia Filippini Fantoni, Université Paris I-Sorbonne, Italy
Teresa Numerico, London South Bank University, United Kingdom

Session: Finding Stuff

We can consider Web browsing as a similar experience to visiting a museum, when we take decisions about where to stop and where to skip over the exhibited objects. This is the same in museums; there are some tools available to help people select what they want to see such as maps, brochures, etc. Just as in a real museum, where maps and brochures help people organize their visit, search engines support the user in their navigation on the Web by assisting them in finding the most relevant material, while ignoring the rest. The Web is a unique "museum" where there are all sorts of data, including multimedia objects, so it is particularly crucial to respect the potentially different attitudes of users that may have various interests and different perspectives. (This is once again the same in museums.) The role of search engines is particularly problematic because they have to guarantee the efficiency of the service without betraying the multiplicity of users'purposes.

The aim of this paper is to show the result of testing the difficulty of access to useful museum-related resources that are not very well known, but contain relevant information when search engines and other query techniques are used. We will show that many museum Websites and databases belong to the hidden part of the Web that is not accessible unless the precise URL is known. We will discuss some practical issues on finding museum information and how museums could improve their search rankings and their own searching facilities, especially with respect to the widely used Google search engine.

Further, we will introduce some promising solutions for finding museums' Websites and searching within them, such as Peer-to-Peer (P2P) search tools, intelligent agents that are specialized for information retrieval using "clustering" strategies based on user preferences, as well as systems of collaborative filtering and collaborative categorization from user experiences and judgments, allowing a personalized search.

All these alternative methods have only a little in common, but share the characteristics of respecting the decentralized and dynamic topology of the Web, while search engines are based on traditional techniques of information retrieval; namely, strategies to access pre-structured data using the appropriate pre-established queries. The Web cannot be compared to a repository of structured data; it requires the development of innovative approaches and methods that take into account its chaotic nature. For all these reasons we do not consider the metadata solution here in detail, despite its role in searching specific museum collections on-line; we believe that there are interesting alternative methods to investigate for the future.