What of other forms of access? To most of us, increasing access means more people; whether visiting the site, going to museums, or watching relevant programmes on the television. Here again, new media provide potential for different forms of access, rather than just increasing the volume. We are currently working on a gallery containing images and discussion of some of the onsite work of artists in residence. Much of that work has been specific to place, and is therefore not that well suited to translation. Much of it had to be discovered `by chance' by the visitor. But these pages can be taken in parallel with others. Moreover, links can be used to engender a range of perspectives on different aspects of the project, including our practice itself. This will also be followed through in more conventional forms of text, involving narrative experiments, multiple interpretations, and in time, a site for conversation and debate. In short, different voices and different views. Our hope is that in developing these experiments, we will create a useful framework for communication and for the closer scrutiny of the interpretive process.

Once again, we need to be realistic about what such developments might bring. They will not, in themselves, bring about the wholesale democratisation of the archaeological process, or erode disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, it is now recognised that the opening up of the Internet and the development of virtual spaces does not necessarily lead in some inevitable and logical manner to open communication (Lyon 1997; Porter 1997). These are genuine concerns. However, the nature of web publishing means that people can take the same core data, explore them in a variety of ways, and engage in dialogue about their meaning.

This document is not the place in which to discuss the specifics of different multimedia technologies per se. Our concern has been to acknowledge the possibilities and limitations that come with the medium, and to recognise some of the compromises that it entails. On a day to day basis, our most pressing concerns lie in the field of web page design and construction. Creating simple web pages is easy. Three years ago a good knowledge of HTML would have been required to place a few paragraphs of text, a list of bullet points, and some static graphics on a page. Current releases of many standard office packages allow the creation of this kind of web page as a standard `Export' or `Save As' feature, so now web creation is as simple as using your word processor. Even email packages allow the sending and viewing of messages as web pages, when used as part of a `browser'. This kind of web page design is inherently/frustratingly static, fails to achieve the level of interaction called for in producing useful educational material, and is looking increasingly dated.

Until recently, many constraints imposed on truly interactive web design have been down to limitations in what is `provided' within HTML itself, and the inconsistent manner in which this is handled by the most popular `browser' software. New developments in the HTML standard are now providing web designers with the kind of functionality which for many years has been commonplace in more conventional multimedia production.

Without entering into an exhaustive description of `What's new in HTML 4', there is greatly enhanced capacity for page layout control, superimposing `layers' of different graphics, animating elements on screen, and dynamically showing and hiding elements contained in layers. Of greater importance is the availability of software tools to create web pages including these features. Just as static web pages are constructed from HTML, many of these new features are accessed and controlled using JavaScript. JavaScript is an actual programming language (as distinct from HTML, which is not), and as such requires negotiating its own learning curve. However, as these extensions to web page creation grow, web editing tools become available that make utilising these features increasingly easy, often by encapsulating the necessary JavaScript for you via their pull-down menus and dialogue boxes. As with most things IT-related, creating more sophistication ultimately requires greater commitment, with some form of actual programming being the inevitable conclusion.

Opportunities and constraints are also imposed by the range of media we can include in our web pages - both in terms of production and delivery. The QuickTime VR images require good photographic conditions in the field, a specialised tripod mount, and software to composite and link the nodes - the latter needing to be purchased and learned. Producing VRML scenes requires both an understanding of 3D computer modelling and the subsequent modelling process itself. Both demand significant commitments of time (and money!). QuickTime VR and VRML, like many other Internet developments also require additional software components to view over the web. This type of software, commonly referred to as a `plug-in', extends the basic functionality of your web browser to accommodate these new kinds of data, but need to be successfully downloaded and installed by the visitor before use. These all represent practical barriers in our full exploitation of what is fully available - in techno-speak, they are not an `out of the box' solution.

Many of our concerns about what can be delivered via the Internet are due to constraints of `bandwidth'. Put simply, bandwidth dictates how quickly, or slowly, we receive data over the Internet. For those connecting via ageing telephone systems or overloaded institutional networks, it can be excruciating. This is such a global concern to the IT industry that it is being tackled on many levels. In addition to simply adding more of it (like widening motorways to accommodate more traffic), considerable progress is being made in its effective use. Developments in the efficient encoding, transportation and decoding of data are enabling, for example, distribution of video material as a real possibility. The BBC, one of the greatest current exponents of the new media, allow live reception of their five main radio channels over the Internet using this technology. Again the plug-in is required, although free of charge (as are all those discussed in this article).


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Last updated: Thu May 27 1999