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Virtual online museums: An interactive experience of art and culture

The term ‘museum’ stems from Ancient Greek and was used to denote the shrine of the muses, the goddesses that inspired the creation of art, culture and science. By contrast, modern-day museums are institutions that collect artefacts of a particular kind and make them available to the wider public. Many museums are reputed to be boring and old-fashioned.

However, the rapid emergence of new communication technologies has brought forth some fresh perspectives, especially when it comes to the internet. Over the last decade several online museums have been created that are freely accessible on the web. Some contain texts and images, others even offer virtual guided tours that allow visitors to appreciate the objects in a three-dimensional space.

The museum that never closes

The advantages of an online museum are obvious. Visitors need no more than an internet connection to get in. Wherever they are in the world, admission is possible around the clock without restrictions. This is particularly beneficial for those who cannot travel, be it for financial, time or health reasons. Even people who would not normally visit a museum are among the users, one reason being that they are free to interrupt their online visit at any time and resume the tour whenever they are ready. On the other hand, thanks to the internet, museums have a whole range of new presentation techniques at their disposal which in real life would be financially or logistically impossible. For instance, artefacts, buildings and monuments from all over the world can be digitally reconstructed and presented online.

Online museums in Germany

Although the number of online museums in Germany is on the rise, the cost of putting together an attractive exhibition is often prohibitive. Technically sophisticated virtual guided tours with animations and three-dimensional objects are expensive to develop, so they are not offered very often. More frequent are text- and image-based presentations. Two examples are the Online Museum of Migration of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and LeMO (Lebendiges Virtuelles Museum Online) of the German Historical Museum. Visitors can click their way through the interactive exhibition rooms and look at digital texts and images to learn about Germany’s (migration) history.

Virtual guided tours with Google

The US company Google is a pioneering force in the world of virtual guided tours. Google’s new Art Project invites visitors to take a stroll through 17 international art museums, including the Gemäldegalerie and the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. For this, Google used the same technology as it did for its GoogleMaps service. The paintings were digitised using high-resolution imaging technology, producing seven-billion-pixel images that allow viewers to make out the surface patina and even fine brushstrokes. The Art Project is ample demonstration that online museums are the museums of the future.

Interested in taking a virtual guided tour of a museum? Join the KULTUR – CULTURE group for a collection

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January 2012

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