In November 2006, the World Heritage Centre signed a multi-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to establish the first World Heritage Digital Center (WHDC) under the leadership of Dr. Ching-chih Chen, information technology Professor at Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. "The World Heritage Centre considers this an important project with great potential to enhance the humanities for universal access and enrichment through the use of emerging technologies," commented Francesco Bandarin, Director of the Centre. It will greatly promote a better knowledge of World Heritage properties and increase awareness of everyone's duty to protect them.
The World Heritage Memory Net (WHMNet), a fast, efficient, and cutting-edge system, will provide universal access to multilingual and multimedia information, including available photographs, videos, audio clips, on 830 World Heritage Sites in 138 countries. They are not only retrievable by specific "traditional" searches by country, region, name of site, etc., but also by freely browsing, randomly looking for images of interest, finding similar images, zooming for details, and obtaining appropriate annotations. More significantly, instant cross-country, cross-cultural retrieval of images of similar nature such as cathedrals, palaces, temples, archaeological sites, etc., that are of similar color and shape can be obtained instantly.
The goals of WHMNet are to:
- create an online world digital library on World Heritage Sites that serves as a model for integrating multi-format and multi-lingual resources from museums, archives, libraries, and world bibliographic and Web resources and develops more geospatial, temporal, and multilingual retrieval capabilities;
- develop a collaborative infrastructure that can support an increasing number of contributing partners worldwide; and
- provide users with integrated digital resources that seamlessly link all types of resources.
As an example, imagine a visitor to the WH Archaeological Site of Volubilis in Morocco who is fascinated by the elegant remains of forum, temples, basilicas and triumphal arches of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century B.C., and wonders what other such similar remains can be found in Africa. By a simple click on one of the pictures of Volubilis, WHMNet can instantly retrieve similar images of sites found in Djemila, and Timgad, Algeria, as shown in the following graphics (click on photograph).
The WHMNet project, to start in July 2007, will benefit greatly from Dr. Chen's Global Memory Net (GMNet), an online global image library and gateway to cultural, historical, and heritage images around the world, created with a multi-year grant from the International Digital Library Programme of the US National Science Foundation. WHMNet will leverage the GMNet's innovative integrated multimedia content retrieval system (i-M-C-S) with further system development. "WHMNet is one of much bigger scale than GMNet" says Chen, who has advocated the concept of the world digital library since 1993.