3. Technology background

The World Wide Web has shrunk and connected the world to an incredible degree compared to the pen and paper era of our predecessors. As Anderson points out, "Tim Berners-Lee's original work to develop the Web was in the context of creating a collaborative environment for his fellow scientists at CERN and in an age when inter-disciplinary research, cutting across institutional and geographical boundaries, is of increasing relevance" (2007, 34). Computers and the Internet have always provided effective methods to facilitate intensive and functional research. A recent study found that the computer-mediated communication medium may actually be superior to face-to-face communication regarding collaborative work (Potter and Balthazard 2002, 437-40). While email has become a standard for communicating and sharing information between individuals, it does not take full advantage of the applied Internet. Modern researchers often need to investigate and interrogate data sets which are not locally accessible to them. Simply developing or using traditional web-based resources is often not sufficient. For researchers to truly exploit the Internet and ensure optimal design of information systems, a thorough understanding of the research process must be established (Bates et al. 1995).

Traditional Internet resources have proved themselves as invaluable and necessary to modern archaeologists, as many scholars have highlighted. The Internet has become an effective way to publish articles (Livingood 1996; Kling et al. 2002), provide rich data (Hodder 1999; Mowat 2002; Hopkinson and Winters 2004), and initiate research. Project websites have provided up-to-date and general information to interested parties (Edmonds and McElearney 1999; Hodder 1999; Wickham-Jones 1999; Haslam 2003). Online journals such as Internet Archaeology are useful and unique mediums to distribute published work to a global community (Vince et al. 1997). The Archaeology Data Service (ADS) acts as a digital repository for project archives and various other collections while gateways and portals, such as the Archaeological Records of Europe - Networked Access (ARENA) or the Historic Environment Information Resources Network (HEIRNET), provide effective tools for resource discovery and evaluation of archives (Fernie 2003; Aldred 2005; Prinke 2005; Waller 2005).

All of these tools have become integral to acquiring archaeological information. However, when it comes to using these applications, users frequently interact with them in a static or one-dimensional manner. They will identify an online resource via a search engine, portal, or gateway, and then procure the necessary information without much further interaction with the resource. Unless a website has an online database which can be interrogated or a web-based GIS application, the resource simply hosts information to be used by the researcher. This way is similar to the mechanics of a library housing a multitude of books and periodicals. Information is sought out, located, and then 'taken' from the resource.

The power of the Internet is its potential for dynamic and interactive usage of its resources. Beyond hosting papers, summaries, and monographs, the Web can host distributed databases, interactive images with user-defined layers, and customisable web forums powered by wiki technologies. These applications can be utilised to engage the user in a dynamic manner and without the need for them to be located in the same room, city, or even hemisphere. Web-based resources are becoming more like desktop applications in the way they are used, but with the major advantage that the application and the data do not have to be hosted on a local machine. For example, the Open Geospatial Consortium's (OGC) Web Map Server (WMS) specification provides a set of protocols to enable clients to access maps hosted by distributed map servers. This service style architecture reduces data latency and the need for local data storage and management (Higgins et al. 2005). Distributing mapping or any other kind of archaeological resource adds greater accessibility and the opportunity for easier collaboration.

The online interactive image of the Sikyon Survey project was created using SVG and implemented Ajax for presenting spatially referenced attribute data. SVG is an XML-based, standards-compliant vector graphics format which has already proven its value in the presentation of archaeological graphics (Wright 2006). Originally considered an acronym for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, Ajax is now used to describe all technologies that allow a web client to communicate asynchronously with a server. Ajax is really more of a technique than a specific technology, with JavaScript as the primary component (Asleson and Schutta 2006, 13). An overview of the underlying technologies of SVG and Ajax is also examined in addition to their advantages and shortcomings. By developing this interactive image within the VRE framework, the potential for propagation of this tool and the future integration of more tools became a possibility.


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Last updated: Tue Mar 25 2008