Culture Online – Beyond Commercial Algorithms. A Case from Slovenia

Ljudmila_in_lights

Ljudmila Art & Science Laboratory has been active for over 20 years as an open-access digital media laboratory, new media art producer and a learning hub. Its activities are rooted in the principles of open source, open access, DIY and DIWO. The lab also has wide experience with information/data exchange in arts and culture. Ljudmila develops and operates the Slovenian culture portals Culture.si (in English) and Kulturnik.si (in Slovene), commissioned by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia in 2009/2010. Each has been conceived according to the problems & goals it addresses: Culture.si runs on the semantic MediaWiki, for Kulturnik, however, an original metasearch engine was developed.

Audience benefits

The users of Kulturnik.si benefit from online culture sources in one place. No accounts, no liking and no friending are needed before accessing the information. The portals inform the potential audiences of the wealth that is already there, ready to be discovered, explored, followed, consumed, reused or acted upon. Unlike most of the current, almost too convenient commercial platforms, Kulturnik.si and Culture.si are not walled gardens. We have created a flat, shared information space, juxtaposing the small or marginalised in the same space as mainstream and established sources. They boost visibility of open web content and metadata. This not only gives a voice to everyone, it also enables new discussions and contextualisations, leading to greater citizen engagement.

Culture.si and Kulturnik.si: a distinctive production model with an agenda

The collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and a not-for-profit artist-run NGO has resulted in a well-managed national-level programme of online presence for Slovenian art, culture and heritage in Slovene and English languages. Our approach has been a bit different than it usually is when national culture is in question: less glossy and representational, but more useful, in-depth and practice driven, covering also non-iconic and fringe content along with the mainstream. The Creative Commons licences are no longer merely an alternative, but have been widely embraced by the cultural institutions. In our case, they cater easy reuse without payment but under reasonable conditions, and boost good media coverage of Slovenian artists.

Another distinct feature in our case is a tight, well-informed interdisciplinary team working on the portals, where editors, writers and programmers work under one roof, many of whom also wear multiple hats in the cultural sphere and bring their experiences as artists, journalists and producers to the table.

In 2013 Ljudmila Art & Science Laboratory took part in a national discussion set off by the Digital Agenda in the Field of Culture. We successfully collaborated with the National and University Library, the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia and other stakeholders. This collaboration resulted in the national Digitisation Guidelines – Cultural Heritage Long-term Preservation and Access (in Slovenian), a document endorsed by the Slovenian Ministry of Culture.

Pitfalls of the online environment

Not all of the commonly used protocols are interoperability-friendly. The RSS works fine, but the events databases are still critical as many a producer has migrated to social platforms and has thus lost control of his/her organisation’s data. Also, the search function is by necessity dependant on our custom built scrapers instead of using the potential of Open Search protocols. We miss brothers-in-arms; people networking for common formats!

Digitisation has almost become an euphemism for privatisation. The access to public digitised resources is restrained by giving technical or copyright reasons and excuses. This means that local, non-iconic works, modern and contemporary art(ists) lose visibility. The loss of open public access by cultural providers outsourcing communication and content to big social networks, walled gardens which are closed by default, have privacy problems and build a bubble around each user. Social networks are good for marketing but extremely bad at memory! Europeana is a good example though, as it has boosted the visibility of digitised national heritage archives, tying them into one open web system, but it lacks the “living culture” that the Europeans are creating and experiencing now!

Outlooks?

How about “Kulturnik” for Europe, in English? Is there a pan-European meta-editor team on the horizon? Imagine arts and culture beyond commercial algorithms!

 

Written by the Culture.si & Kulturnik.si team for the Council of Europe Platform Exchange on Culture and Digitisation (an excerpt)

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