Report from 4th Culturemondo International Roundtable meeting in Taiwan

The theme which framed the conference was ‘how the old feeds the new’ – how cultural heritage, artefacts, collections, objects can shape and nurture meaning in our ever changing online world.

There were 37 participants from 21 countries who split pretty equally into three groups:
– those (like me) running what were in the past called cultural portals
– people from the asia/pacific region who are involved in online cultural projects of various different kinds (some portals, some networks, some new stuff)
– theorists, artists, researches and developers from varies strands of the commercial, academic and creative sectors.


It was my first meeting as the new Chair and also the first time that we have had the resources to document the proceeding (thanks to our Taiwanise host TELDAP) as well as serious plan to disseminat them over the coming months.

These events are always best for their sociable nature and the inspiration you find in new people with other practices. The group were all wonderfully creative people, who are at the top of their fields and I felt a real honour at being their chair and coordinator for three days.


What is a cultural portal? It used to be a simple set of links, a kind of directory within which to find information. This model is dead. Search engines have replaced this functionally in ways that are quicker, more sophisticated and free to the public purse. Portals (if the word is to remain) now need to be doorways into an online architecture that is a curated space – much as a real doorway leads you into a building with different rooms, levels and interiors. They need to be published and at their best should allow their data to be filterd by others for republication.

The first generation of cultural portals have now either evolved or died. Those that have survived and grown are faced with the new challenge of how to have their own voice. How to build an architecture that draws people in and lay down ‘desire lines’ to new places.

Portal used to just be just the messenger, with culture itself – the art, the object as the message. The new generation of portals we are now seeing are, at their best, are both messenger and the message.

Portals need publishing and publishing is about curation, opinion, vision, style and content. The more we can publish, curate and integrate content for our audiences, the more meaning we can give it and the more value we add as the publishers.

This means not just knowing and defining our own voice as publishers (the role of the editor or journalist) but also finding ways to integrate both institutional culture (from our museums, archives galleries etc) with people’s own views of culture. This is a real challenge to do well and one I know the mumbers of the Culturemondo netwrok are rising to.

Some of those at the meeting were running a new generation of projects that seem to bypass the institutional view altogether. Things like Global Voices or Dirk Picture Library in Bangladesh are both examples of projects that fundamentally combine the message and the meaning inseparably in their architecture, methodology and delivery.


It was clear to me personally that the new Culture24 site that we have just spent two years building is already in need of another rebuild before we have even launched it. I am driven, inspired and depressed by this fact. I know that the new site is going to be loved and will generate a level of interest in UK culture not previously seen online but I also know that the best is let to come.

Roll on the next Culturemondo roundtable.


You can see full info on the participants, agenda and video clips of the roundtable on the Culturemondo website.

Europeana website overwhelmed?

The 20th November saw that launch of the Europeana portal and its almost immediate technical crash. I was struck by the excitement with which this was hailed as an overwhelming success, evidently demonstrating the high user demand for such a service.

You can read the official notice here.

Upon closer examination, it seems that they had more that 3,000 simultaneous users, which was what brought the system down.

3,000 … not 10,000 not 100,000 but 3,000.

This does not seem to be a very high number (the 24HM site regularly gets more than 7,000 in any one day of which there must 3,000 at any one time on a regular basis?).

I am shocked that a system of this scale, with substantial investment, had such low targets for its audiences – I also wonder what will have happened to those that tried to visit the site in the first flurry of PR coverage, will they return?

Hmmm …