Egyptian digital exhibit draws on IBM Canada talent

Everything old is new again in Egypt thanks to a new multimedia venture by IBM.

Big Blue is working on a multi-million-dollar, multi-platform project, entitled “”Eternal Egypt,”” which is the culmination of three years of work between IBM,

the Egyptian government and groups like the Egyptian Centre for the Documentation of Culture and National Heritage (CultNat) and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Among the many facets of the project are complex digital galleries which include photographs of, and information about, numerous cultural artifacts, periods, and sites. Information on these virtual exhibits is viewable in a number of ways, from the project’s Web site to interfaces for PDAs and cell phones. Visitors to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo will have access to special handheld personal devices that access the project’s information, as a sort of high-tech personal tour guide.

The various methods of viewing Eternal Egypt’s content are geared towards user context. Users in the Egyptian Museum will be able to have a deeper and more dimensional experience by accessing the digital part of the exhibit than they would have before.

“”If you look at a chair, you can see the chair, but you can also see who used that chair, where was it used and when was it used, so you’re creating a story around that object. We call it a story-baesd content management system,”” said Valerie Fox, senior creative director for the IBM Creative Innovations Centre in Toronto.

The project also boasts of enhancing tourists’ experiences in the “”museum outside the walls,”” i.e. the famed outdoor historic sites of Egypt itself.

“”You’d be using the cell phone to find out extra information while you were visiting the sites,”” said Fox.

While the mobile elements of the project are generally only useful to those actually in Egypt, the Web site is the project’s most versatile and universally accessible component.

“”The Web site really is geared for all different types of learners and users, people who are interested in Egyptian culture. We try to appeal to a very broad base of users,”” said Fox.

The Web site includes several unique applications developed in the Creative Innovations Centre, including a mapping application, a timeline, and a virtual tour.

Fox said the digital assets created during the project are being saved as learning objects IBM hopes it can apply to various courseware.

“”It’s really engaging, compelling work that they’re doing,”” said Brian Porter, director of new media resources for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which recently opened its own “”Eternal Egypt”” exhibit last month (though the projects are unrelated). “”I think any person working in the digital world and a museum is looking at them with envy.””

Though the ROM plans to unveil its own digital gallery later this month featuring Egyptian content, Porter admitted that projects of the scope and magnitude of IBM’s Eternal Egypt are difficult for museums and cultural institutions to produce without outside help.

“”The collaboration there is exciting and is an example of what cultlural institutions today must do. And that is to strike strategic alliances and relationships and partnerships with technology companies, and with digital content technology companies that can help create these types of experience,”” he said. “”No cultural institution that I know of has either the skill or the expertise, and certainly not the resources financially, to do this on their own,”” said Porter.

For museums and cultural facilities, the idea of digital galleries and interactive displays continues to be a way to connect the viewer or participant more directly with the subject they are learning about — or “”experiencing””.

“”We want to find out who wore that necklace and what was the significance of that necklace — it’s all these stories that are interwoven into that thing,”” Fox said. “”It’s about all the different touchpoints that that thing has experienced. We all tend to remember things better through storytelling.””

Porter noted that people’s interest in Egypt would lead the project’s success.

“”Egypt is a subject that drives a lot of fascination.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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