The Mona Lisa of Semantic Tagging

 By Hélène Lesage

Cultural institutions have been taking exciting steps towards making online experiences not just for their own institutions, but linking them to the wider network of data and information. A new European experiment called JocondeLab organized by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication - is showing how the cultural world can be an important utilizer of what’s known as the Semantic Web . The idea of Semantic Web is to enable interpretation of information by machines, so that they can more efficiently find, act upon and connect information from different sources on the web.

JocondeLab has recently won the prize for ‘Data Access’ during the Data Intelligence Awards 2014, recognising its quality of accessing information online.

The content of JocondeLab comes from the semantic links between the entries of the Joconde Catalogue, the catalogue of collections of French National museums, and connecting those with the entries of Wikipedia and DBpedia (a project aiming to extract structured content from the information created as part of the Wikipedia). JocondeLab is intended to give a wider public access to French cultural resources, and to promote linguistic diversity, so one of the best features of the site is that its content is available in a staggering 14 languages. In addition, each record is linked to DBpedia which automatically populates the entry with related content from Wikipedia in those languages.

In my view the availability of the content in so many languages is hugely significant for several reasons. Firstly, as a French national living and working in London, I think this could help dismiss the stereotype of the French ignoring the importance of multilingualism in the global culture. Secondly, of these 14 languages, 4 are European regional languages such as Breton, Occitan, Catalan and Basque. This coincides very well with the French Parliament’s recent effort to ratify the regional languages charter, in order to give them active recognition. The preservation of cultural and linguistic diversity is of crucial importance in an increasingly global and seemingly homogeneous culture worldwide. At Antenna, we've seen museums increasingly serve the specialized needs of their audiences audiences - so we're producing tours in Catalan, Basque, Galician, Berber, Afrikaans and Haitian Creole.

Thirdly, the site actively invites crowd sourced information. In addition to seeing the 300,000 records from the Joconde Catalogue (with traditional data such as artist name, work title and so on) users can contribute to the improvement of its content by collaborative semantic tagging in two ways: either by adding keywords in an entry field or by describing a piece of art. Users don’t need to register, the keywords they enter will remain visible only during the time their session is active and will be backed up in order to be analysed.

JocondeLab is an experiment, so as such it still has its limitations and the information available depends on the extent of resources available in each language on Wikipedia. But even in this nascent stage, it could be a good example for other world heritage websites to follow and is a positive step towards the modernisation of the tools used for cultural resources. JocondeLab and its collaborative policy encourages access to culture for everyone, and that’s something we’re always thinking about at Antenna.

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