Coburg Meeting / Workshop Report C

ERDE/ CoburgMeeting/






Short Summary of Workshop C

The significance of the digital cultural renaiscance for the development of cities and rural areas (Kim Veltman)

Rapporteur: Franz Nahrada

Unfortunately, the very visionary theme did not attract local actors from Coburg. A relatively small group with Eva Gaspar, Wiepke van Aken, Adolf Jšndl had the opportunity to go in depth discussing the potential of the digital renaiscance on concrete examples and exchanging views on the future of rural areas.

The workgroup started with looking at a working version of SUMS and prewiewing the concept of SUMMA. In short, SUMS is bringing the advantage of the library reference room to the much larger world of digital content. Dr. Veltmans thesis was short and compelling: search engines are not really the tools to save us time. Although they are very useful in many contexts, they tend to deviate us when we are looking for specific context. Even very elaborate search strategies yield results that come out of contexts we are not actually looking for; and although "surfing" sometimes might be inspiring, "diving" into the depth of the matter is difficult if we cannpt explain to the system the specific context we are looking for.

So SUMS as a kind of structured antithesis (better: complement) to Google is the idea of a search "machine" (better: environment) that eliminates those informations we do not actually look for - by applying *structured* access to knowledge sources. This structured access is basically defined by classical research questions "Who", "What", "When", "Where", "How" and "Why". It defines the context out of which we are looking for the information: the search result would be completely different, for example, if we want to solve a practical mundane problem or if we are looking for religious interpretations of a certain fact.

SUMS would then lead us to the sources to the extent that the current state of online digitisation of content allows for. Kim Veltman gave a very interesting reference to the extent of digitisation "beyond Project Gutenberg" by making us familiar with some excellent research sources in the domain of texts and scriptures: www.eulogos.net which leads, for example, to the fully indexed Bibliotheca Religiosa of www.intratext.com.

But SUMS is not restricted to the domain of text based search strategies; in the original "draft version" of SUMS, searching was done in browseable geographical spaces (from the map of the world to a particular house in Florence) from where we could exactly locate the thing we are searching for in time and space simply by origin if we know it. There we would find an "entry door" to semantic spaces extending from the single point of entry that we chose. We also looked at the verious semantic space representation and navigation systems like aquabrowser and visual thesaurus which also could facilitate structured search strategies beyond simple keywords, including relations like similarity, synonymity or antonymity.

From here it was only a small step to the insight that the ultimate search tool could be (and hopefully will be) digitised content itself, "knowing" about its relations and "pointing" in the desired direction if so specified. Reference was given to the work of Manfred Thaller who conceptualises "autonomous digital objects" that know about their contexts. A picture would then point to the motive, the painter, the idea, even to retrievals, obsolescences, enhancements and reversals of the particular medium.

So all this was a good background of how knowledge and media really become accessible for us. The discussion switched to the reasons WHY do we want to do this. What is the use of all this when you have rural areas in mind?

The answer is manyfold. Local needs could be automatically semantically used to classify global context, local ways of expressing things should be understood by search engines. Sums for example has built in translation so out of a particular given context you can define any terms in many local ways.

But we cannot make use of all available information in a rural or regional context. The discussion now led us to the relation between rural-regional development strategies and the knowledge economy.

Basically, these development stragegies consist of two elements which are only seemingly contradicting each other:

The first strain is the "focussing" of villages, small towns, even regions to play a meaningful part in the context of a larger division of labour. This means, we need knowledge to deepen the allready existing conmpetence in a particular field which the village-town-region chose as its themen or motive to work on. the Malechowo region would, for example, benefit a lot by being able to scan for inspirations on creativity.

The second strain is the "generalising" strategy to enable given institutions and actors to broaden their output in comparison to the average professional level. A rural doctor might have to do the work of some specialised doctors, perform emergency surgery, doing x-rays; a rural educator would have to answer to a broad range of informational needs.