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Creating a Digital Ark for a Nation and its Civilization

A Report on the First Seven Years of an Innovative Decade Long Effort

July is a special issue on the first seven years of Taiwan's innovative National Digital Archive Program. It includes interview conducted on site in April with four of the principals and explains how the program, that is the most cross disciplinary in the world, has not yet solved the IPR issues necessary to give it long term sustainability. . How to purchase this issue. $150 or $450 group.

May 31, Ewing, NJ -- The July issue looks at the NDAP project in Taiwan..

Executive Summary

Taiwan’s National Digital Archive Project pp. 1-52

Taiwan’s National Digital Archive Project began in 2001 and will run through 2011. It originated as a collaboration between the National Science Council and Academia Sinica. As early as the late 1980s Academia Sinica had begun to digitize some of the Chinese classics and the dynastic histories of China. Consequently when the development of technology and the Internet began to make it attractive to undertake a major effort, there was a fertile foundation already there. Academia Sinica was the original Chinese Academy of Sciences. It was organized in 1928 and, having survived through World War II, and the Civil War, migrated across the Chinese mainland with the nationalists and in 1949, with the victory of Mao Tse-Tung, crossed the Straits to Formosa and reestablished itself in Taipei. The Nationalist Government and Academia Sinica brought with it a cargo of priceless Chinese Imperial Archives and art treasures from the Forbidden City.


Academia Sinica has more than 30 Research institutes embracing the natural sciences, the physical sciences and political sciences as well as humanities. After the trauma of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland, the Academy and Nationalist Government, with some justification, came to consider itself the ark for the preservation of Chinese civilization and its associated artifacts. Then, with the turn of the new millennium, some key faculty in the Academy put together and obtained funding for a program of cross-disciplinary digitization that got an official start in 2001 under the title of National Digital Archive Program.

As a very large island, very far south with mountains rising to almost 4000 m Taiwan has extraordinary biodiversity of animals and plants and a several millennia old human civilization. This rich fabric combined, with the breadth of coverage of the academy’s institutes, resulted in a decision to cross link metadata from 16 different fields of knowledge ranging from anthropology to zoology. In 2006 with the beginning of Phase Two, a further decision was made to merge the 16 into six-thematic groups. These are first - maps and architectures; second - languages and multimedia; third - biosphere and nature; fourth - lives and cultures; fifth -archives and databases; sixth - artifacts and illustrations.

The bridging across discipline’s will help raise many new possibilities for research such as the more widespread use of things like the largest known time series of human measurements namely the three centuries of the month-by-month changes in agricultural prices registered as part of the Imperial Ch’ing Dynasty archives in Beijing.

Several other serious digital archive projects have begun elsewhere in the world. However, the one in Taiwan is the only one of which I am aware that is so blatantly cross disciplinary – something that, given the capabilities of computer technology, seems to be an obviously desirable course to follow.

The program is highly desirable from multiple points of view. It will give additional reason to further the development of storage and display technology, an area where Taiwan with its Industrial Technology Research Institute is already a world leader. It will allow for innovative experimentation in electronic learning and in international collaboration. It should help drive the development of metadata capabilities. And finally, since it resides at the cross section of the interests of content owners or and the global Internet as the preferred means of distribution (actually as a kind of copy machine) of images and all kinds of media, it has found itself caught squarely in a dilemma between the 20th century paradigm of copyright and third-party gatekeepers who collect payment for the use of intellectual property and the 21st century paradigm of the Internet as a copy machine so aptly described in a recent essay by Kevin Kelly.

Indeed wherever I went and to whomever I talked I encountered a consistent and altogether not surprising refrain of the necessity to solve the problem of intellectual property in such a way as to gain from the effort’s dissemination of its digitized information a dependable cash flow so that it can make into a self-sustaining operation the continuation and maintenance of what has been done, when funding stops in 2011.

This report offers extensive commentary on the National Palace Museum. The NPM has undertaken a major marketing campaign. In DVDs; and the use of technology in the exhibitions themselves; and in all manner of licensed outreach to the public including extraordinarily well-done animations -- it has tried in a 20th century one to many manner to break down the barriers separating the old and more conservative museum culture or from the modern world. Yet I contend that it is the power of digital devices in the hands of ordinary people, be they youngsters with cell phone cameras or older amateurs such as myself, that makes our interest in using our technology to capture and experiment with what we see at a museum like this has become increasingly paramount. We will go to museums by and large that permit photography and avoid those that don’t.

Regrettably the National Palace Museum falls into the latter category. At some point some years ago the senior museum management began a digitization project -- even before the National Digital Archive Program -- with a commercial licensing group that has sought to capture the value of the images. Not realizing this until after I arrived on the scene, the contrast between the beautifully done marketing and the abject reality of no cameras made for a severe disappointment. I contend that the senior museum staff simply does not understand the impact of the Internet and the movement of powerful digital tools that heretofore could have only been afforded by museum staff into the hands of the people at large. And given photographic websites and social websites with people at large, they will play with their tools where they are welcome.

The principal program leaders, to their credit, are trying very hard to address the conundrum in which they find themselves caught between the need for a sustainable cash flow income from what they’ve done and the apparent problem of Internet as copying machine. They are taking in one respect to admirable out a way out by using the Creative Commons licenses for noncommercial use of what the project has developed. But at the same time the project runs squarely into a catch 22 in that to try to distinguish between a relatively worthless public domain and what can be turned from a commodity into a cash flow, the objects that have been digitized – some hundreds of thousands of them are placed in a union catalog – it’s still unfortunately all in the Mandarin. In the catalogue they come in three sizes: archival of approximately 4000 x 6000 pixels industrial of approximately 2000 x 3000 pixels and public domain usually anywhere from about 300 x 300 to maybe six or 700 x 400 pixels. Given high-bandwidth technology and improvements in color displays, the small images do not do justice to the beauty of the objects that they portray. With special permission required to access the larger images, there is a divide between the public and those whom the National Digital Archive program hoped would be come its customers.

Parallel to my visit I was discussing the development of an interesting project with David Hughes III an old friend. I used what I was finding out in Taiwan as an lever to find out more about this solution that David is developing for a startup that he calls Visual Arts Systems Inc. I close this study with recommendations that the NDAP Project find out ways to break down the barriers between what they are doing and the public at large. Because what they are doing is eminently worthwhile. And I also look with interest at what Visual Art Systems is doing because it seems to me that when their current alpha test becomes beta and then commercial, they may well have a viable solution where by they can arrange with any museum in the world or any content holder to license and broker their content for sale over the Internet using a very innovative software “factory” that keeps the very high resolution image for sale as the highest quality of artistic standards and, at the same time, allows the content holder to develop another file using standard Museum metadata language that contains a thumbnail and a larger image and extensive metadata language wrapped in a package that is used designed to convey to browsers on the Internet the value inherent in the object and to allow them to make purchase decisions about those objects that they find especially attractive. Both sides of this equation NDAP and Visual Art Systems Inc. are worth following very closely in the future. And NDAP is especially to be congratulated for continuing now through seven years of what will be a highly innovative decade-long project.


Creating a Digital Ark for a Nation and its Civilization

A Report on the First Seven Years of an Innovative Decade Long Effort

The Origins of a Digital Ark p. 1
Why Was it Done? Just Because it Could Be? p. 2

National Digital Archive Program -
the Policy and Technology Rationale

Dr. Simon Lin Examines the Purpose and Context

The Origins of the NDAP Program p. 4
The First Five Years p. 5
Transition to Phase Two - Three levels of Content Quality p. 9
Making Cross Disciplinary Data Available p. 10
Phase Two Objectives p.12
International Collaboration p. 13

Building a Foundation for Sustainability
as the Goal of Phase Two

Vice President Ts’ui Jung Liu

Building a Foundation for Sustainability p. 17
Property Rights -- A Critical Issue p. 18
Commercialization versus Research Priorities p. 19
Crossing Boundaries p. 19

Bringing Taiwan’s Premier Museum into
the Digital Age

Dr. James Lin at the National Palace Museum p. 21

The Role of the Internet in the Future of NPM p. 22
The Mega-Projects Give Way to Ubiquitous Networked
Society p. 23
So What Do You Do with All this Technology? p. 25
The Ubiquitous NPM - RFID in Museum Tickets p. 26
Sustainability – Private versus Public Sector p. 29
A Museum Reorganization p. 31

Institute of Philology and History Focuses on Outreach and Property Rights Solutions

A Conversation with Dr. Pengshen Chiu

The Role of the Institute of History and Philology p. 32
Intellectual Property Once More p. 33
Kids Day p. 37


On the Necessity of Understanding How to Most Effectively Use the Internet as the Delivery Vehicle for a National Digital Archive

How to Market and Monetize National Treasures p. 39
Tear Down the Barriers And Look for Balance p. 41
Licensing p. 42
But the Internet Is a COPY Machine p. 46
Tapping Social Networks and Social Production p. 49
Conclusion p. 50
VSI and the Art Factory p. 51

Executive Summary p.53