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[avignon] Google’s Cultural Institute

Steve Crossan, head of the Cultural Institute in Paris, is demo-ing Google’s super spiffy swirling virtual bookcase. The Cultural Institute was set up in April. It’s a group of engineers. They’re building tools and services for the cultural sector, to help people get to online content in an emotionally engaging way.

One pilot project: Dead Sea Scrolls online, searchable and zoomable. Another the WebGL Bookcase.

Another: Memory of a Nation. In 2012 they’re focusing on bringing together archival content with personal testimony.

They’re also developing a physical space. In a virtual world, what shall one do with a physical space to explore culture? The space will be opening in April-May 2012.

Steve introduces Amit Sood to talk about the Google Art Project. He was working on Android, but spent his 20% time (“on Saturdays and Sundays” :) on a collaborative project with 17 great museums. It launched on Feb 1. It’s trying to give an idea of how to enjoy the museums and art in a different way.

He points out that it does not look like a Google page. He goes to a Brueggel at the Met. He zooms in extremely tight (brushstroke close) and very easily, without obvious latency. The “gigapixel” zoom is crazy good. There’s an info panel with plenty of info, including multi-media. You can also do a street view through the museum. (Not all the paintings are at the gigapixel level.) You can add artworks to your personal collections, and annotate it, including sharing details. (The details can always be zoomed back out.) You can share your collections on any social medium.

Why did Google do the project? It started out of passion, not out of corporate strategy. But after they launched, it got a lot of internal support. The four person team was multicultural. Access to info is critical, he says. He grew up in India, where simply walking into a museum was not a real possibility. He reminds us how lucky we are. That was his personal motivation. Other team members did it in order to create new audiences. How can we reduce the snob factor of museums? Finally, because it’s an immersive experience.

25M people have visited. 100,000 collections. Version 2 is coming.

Q: Will you open archives of unplayed music? And can artists create their own gigapixel images?

A: We’re working with archives.

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