“Science was Crucial for the Development of E-content”
What e-content means in Slovenia:
A: The production of electronic content is where freedom of speech should be fought for in the 21st Century because with the development of ICT, electronic content is going to be our main means of expression, and the better we master the production of e-Content, the better our voices will be heard. That’s the true meaning of e-content, and in Slovenia we are, I believe, aware of it.
What is the current status of e-content in your country, including national e-content development across all the sectors of the industry?
Slovenia has 2 million inhabitants, thus e-Content can only exist due to the joint forces of private and public sector, with its development depending on access, creativity and economies of scale. Creativity is often a matter of access to the best equipment and this is related to expenses that can’t always be justified in the market.
Thus, for example, the leading, internationally acclaimed computer games developer in Slovenia (Arxel Tribe) recently dissolved, with its major partners switching to advertising. Since almost any visual ad, produced in the country has been digitally reworked by them, this can hardly be considered e-content. Nonetheless, advertising is indeed one of the few branches where the creation of e-content proves to be economically viable and even here, it is not a dominant activity. Some years ago, many advertising companies were established in the field of e-content by young experts who were developing creative and even critical approaches. Some of these initiatives were the group ‘Marvin Brown’ who are the creators of the WSA entry ‘Marvin Superstore’. Eventually, several of these organizations were purchased by bigger advertising companies who transformed them into their e-content subsidies, which were of little significance compared to their other media divisions.
Independent e-content oriented companies are rare and they often add some other activity to their services such as industrial design (like ‘Asobi’ undertakes) or, more often, software development. Here, two companies lead the way. One is ‘Parsek’, the company responsible for creating most of the Slovene business and government web sites, that is part of a consortium of companies dedicated to developing software solutions for online businesses. The other is ‘Ultra’, the biggest success in terms of developing creative applications and software which is already content, such as ‘M-PAY’, a WSA entry. Both ‘Parsek’ and ‘Ultra’ are global players, while companies active only on Slovene market, with more local content can barely survive. Still, web sites are blooming; an example of a creative and interactively-designed Slovene trade site is ‘Bolha’ (The Flea), a web-based flea-market with a special interactive programme for auctions.
The Ministry for Information Society’ is the lead player when it comes to access and creativity in e-content. Their strategy in providing general access has two pillars. One is infrastructure: apart from regulating relationships among operators of different networks, the Ministry itself invests in building of a digital network which is a web of mutually connected multimedia centres in various cities across the country. Thus, it makes digital tools and infrastructure available to citizens with no economic interest or at least no means of individual purchase, enabling them to turn from passive consumers into active creators of multimedia contents. The major content providers from this network are ‘Kiberpipa / Cyberpipe’ and ‘Ljudmila’ in Ljubljana and “Kibla” in Maribor at present. The other pillar of the strategy to provide general access is promoting open source ideals as well as software and creative applications by creating government strategy, initiating competitions and providing resources for the best open source applications.
Creativity in e-content is a joint task of the Ministry for Information Society and the Ministry of Culture. The former has joined the EU- launched e-content programme dedicated to supporting the production, use and distribution of European digital content and to promoting linguistic and cultural diversity on global networks. The Ministry of Culture started to consider e-content a part of Slovene audio-visual culture and is providing public resources for the production of e-content in visual and performing arts as well s within the mass media. For both Ministries, interactivity is the main quality criteria: the Ministry for Culture mainly finances real-time artistic projects, while the Ministry for Information Society promotes interactive forms of e-content advocatingthe change from providing information to creating knowledge.
Which e-content area is best developed in your country?
E-Content is quite evenly developed across different areas in Slovenia. E-inclusion as a special interest area has, at the moment, priority but it seems more developed in infrastructure than in content. This is a result of (the WSA system of) categorization which excludes artistic production. The digital tools and infrastructure, available in the multimedia centres of the Slovene digital network are mainly used to produce e-content in terms of art projects, often, related to performing arts and taking place in real time, they indeed elude the demand for a separate object. Yet, some forms like net.art or video acts by VJs which parallel music played by DJs in clubs and at parties make a legitimate part of contemporary visual arts since they satisfy both of the criteria for creative e-content: they are digitally produced and being commonly used content, they could be regarded products especially since they often serve as a vehicle for e-content development in general.
The contents produced in multimedia centres that are generally available to the citizens in Slovenia are of strategic importance because they don’t need to follow the codes or constraints of media industries and can freely promote values other than just entertainment-value, which is imperative in entertainment industry. They also challenge citizens to produce their own content for use within popular media: a strategy which media like television are starting to use to provide e-content at the lowest costs.
Which sectors in your country are the leaders in e-content development?
In terms of initiative in developing e-content, a kind of symbiosis formed in Slovenia among all the players involved. The government, through the Ministry for Information Society and other agencies, quite rigidly follows the ideal of providing the right conditions, and a platform for the development of e-content without getting involved in production itself which, of course, ensures transparency and equal opportunities in public funding. Governmental initiatives are considered successful when the business and private sector, and civil society initiatives are triggered.
Thus, even in the area of e-Government, Non-Governmental bodies, either private companies or civil society organizations, provide the content from web sites dedicated to solving the tax-payers’ problems to the site facilitating involvement in the contemporary art system (‘Art Server’, a WSA entry produced by SCCA).
Please describe the progress of e-content development in your country.
Science was crucial for the development of e-content in Slovenia in the post-war Slovene society. This resulted in the establishment of many high quality institutes such as IJS, The Jozef Stefan Institute of Physics which in 1992, established the ‘Academic and Research Network of Slovenia’, ‘Arnes’ which provides free Internet access to members of the academic community, librarians, teachers, students, and their affiliates.
Another legacy of IJS is that in 1993, it developed the first World Wide Web server in Slovenia that grew into a web portal with all the information about Slovenia. In 1996, it acquired its present visual identity, a logotype in form of a chicken laying eggs, with the chicken strongly resembling the actual map of Slovenia, and the name Mat’Kurja, literally meaning Mother-Chicken (a colloquial phrase which, in this context, is also a parody of the discourse on the motherland). In 1999, when Mat’Kurja provided 1.6 million HTML documents per month, it was moved to a private domain provided by ‘EON Ltd.’, one of the first companies dedicated to conducting business online. Mat’Kurja, even today, has remained THE main web portal in the country and its history is the history of Internet in Slovenia.
Another important event was establishing the Georg Soros’ Open Society Institute office in Ljubljana in 1993. Part of it was ‘Soros’ Center for Contemporary Art’, ‘SCCA’ which provided the necessary equipment and resources and during the 1990’s, it served as the hub for the development of digital culture in Slovenia. Within ‘Ljudmila’, in the ‘Ljubljana Digital Media Lab’, a group of experts in computers, electronics and information and communication technology, who are interested in artistic innovation and social experimentation, was formed ‘Ljudmil soon became an international centre for development of net.art.
Some of the artists (like Marko Peljhan, a participant in this year’s Venice Biennial Exhibition, and others like Vuk Æosiæ who is active in net.art, in HTML and web design, in art and theory, whose works are included into curricula of numerous art academies and universities, and whose legendary ASCII videos are part of the collection of New York Museum of Modern Art) are still active. ‘Ljudmila’ was also one of the founding members of “net time”, an international group of net activists and theorists who significantly shaped contemporary media theory and political philosophy.
Please list the major initiatives which have influenced and spurred the development of e-content in your country.
While in the 1990s, the production of e-content was a result, one might even say a side product, of events shaping digital culture as a whole, after 1999, e-content has begun to be developed as a result of initiatives deliberately aimed at its stimulation. The first such action was the construction of the Ministry for Information Society in 2000. The majority of the actions of the Ministry: providing funds for and regulating the growth of infrastructure; investing in and developing open source software and applications; creating mechanisms to stimulate investment in e-content production and development, were all aimed at influencing the development of e-content in Slovenia.
Most recent initiatives (November 2003) are being taken up by the major Slovene mobile network operator ‘Mobitel’ and by the major Slovene Internet provider ‘Siol’, two sister firms of ‘Telecom’, the national fixed telephone network operator. They both aim at providing e-content in terms of digital television i.e. e-Entertainment. ‘Mobitel’ is already streaming moving images (TV news and short films created by theusers themselves) on the mobile platform, thus taking a lead in the global context. ‘Siol’, by providing several hundred TV channels via the Internet, is taking the lead in Slovenia in the field of providing digital TV. Both initiatives will drastically change e-content in Slovenia but it is too soon to predict how.
The present alliances show that they are going to rely on the major private TV content provider ‘Pro Plus’ which is associated with major private terrestrial televisions ‘POP TV’ and ‘A Kanal’. At the moment, ‘RTV Slovenia’, the public service broadcasting company of Slovenia, being financed by license fee and advertising revenue, is undergoing a change in business processes aimed at lowering (quite high) operating costs. It provides TTX, WAP, SMS on demand and a web site as additional services to its terrestrial TV and radio channels. It is broadcasting its programs via satellite and has some of its content available for mobile telephones.
What have been the major bottlenecks in the development of e-content in your country?
The major bottleneck on the path of e-content development in Slovenia is by no means the mentality of the population that is reluctant to accept any change, in particular those related to new technologies, and in general looks not towards the future but towards the past. The result is that uses of new technologies are modelled after the things already known, and thus, most of the e-content in Slovenia is a recreation of old media content.
In developed countries ICT has become part of daily life and e-content development is primarily left to the initiatives of individuals or organizations. On the other hand, in less developed countries, the development of e-content is largely dependent on ICT infrastructure. Please give a detailed analysis of the situation in your country.
It is hard to draw national borders when it comes to interpreting the social aspects of technology. There are however some general rules. One of them, observed by anthropologists of technology in various areas is the notion of technology being a black box which means it can only be generally accepted when people can use it without being aware of it.
“Internet will be everywhere only when it is not visible anywhere,” said an expert a decade ago while another one claimed that our present use of computers is like going to movies and having to watch the projector. As I write this, a major global TV network advertises its online services by claiming that to access Internet, one generally needs more than 100 buttons but with them, you only need three. A simple press of the button is a common metaphor for public acceptance of (new) technology. “You press the button and we do the rest,” was, for example, the headline promoting the first photo cameras at the end of 19th century.
Our common experience is, I believe, that people demand a black box: only content in the form of a completely packaged product will be generally used. Of course, as a matter of fact, content is always dependent on infrastructure, and infrastructure could even have a decisive impact on content: infrastructure could BE the content. For example, at present one can create short videos that are nothing but a software program – a video starts, when you start the program.
On the other hand, we all believe that, just like in the case of radio and television, the general public will be more attracted to and more eager to use ICT when e-content develops. If you ask me to decide, which one is the centre of innovation and development, I would say it is neither, neither ICT nor content, but knowledge. That is the experience in Slovenia: the stress could shift from content providers to access providers and vice versa but decisive is the formation of the group of experts who can provide innovation.
Recent anthropological studies also prove that, be it in the case of Mesopotamia or Silicon Valley, the idea that innovations were first concentrated in a centre and then spread evenly over the globe is wrong. It was the other way around, innovations were first distributed evenly, and concentrated later. The idea of the group of experts, necessary for the development of technology, is related to the fact that the use of technology cannot be learned in any way but by using it. (One cannot learn how to drive a car from the book or in a lecture room). Actually, decisive is not knowledge alone but skill. So, eventually, it is people who are a decisive factor. In Slovenia, we had at least two such groups of experts, one around IJS and the other around Ljudmila. One hopes that the network of multimedia labs will work in the same way.
How would you describe the ICT scenario in your country? Please describe it in terms of infrastructure, penetration, acceptance and policies.
The major issue is what will happen when Slovenia becomes a part of the EU on May 1, 2004, and dimensions change, for example, when the dominant players in Slovenia become the smallest players of the EU. In general, I believe, becoming a part of the EU will have a positive effect on ICT growth. Presently, quite a good infrastructure might develop, and the penetration will most probably increase along with the acceptance, by a more vital need to connect. Policies might have the decisive impact on whether the general direction of ICT development is good or bad. Ethics is a very complex issue but here, I believe the distinction between good and bad is quite clear and generally accepted: providing access to all people is good, the Opposite is bad. In these terms, I do hope that the copyright protection of software is going to be profoundly re-considered both within the EU andglobally. Do we really support the idea of copyrighted software even if we know it hinders the development of ICT and of e-content since it prevents everybody from participating and thereby denies freedom of expression to those excluded ?