Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Eternal Egypt Website



The centerpiece of Eternal Egypt is a trilingual website which offers the most robust repository of information and media about Egyptian cultural history available on the web today. High-resolution two- and three-dimensional artifact scans, 360º panoramas of locations, annotated multimedia animations, virtually-reconstructed environments, and real-time photos from webcams are woven into a multi-epoch journey through the museum that is Egypt itself.
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The website began as a concept, "Egypt Everywhere," which strove to highlight the major themes that run through the course of Egyptian history. Spanning periods, peoples, and cultures the website was envisioned to appeal to the sensibilities and interests of a global audience. To reflect this concept in the development of a look-and-feel for the site, and consequently all other aspects of the project, IBM conducted a global "call for entries" amongst the e-business Innovation Centers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, D.C., Hamburg, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, and Vancouver. The most visually appealing aspects of these designs were taken as inputs for a truly globally-inspired look-and-feel for the entire Eternal Egypt project.
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Ease of use and diversity of options for interacting with the wealth of content characterize the advanced functionality available on the Eternal Egypt website. Organized primarily in "articles", small segments that cohere thematically and can be grouped into stories or tours, the content for the site is accessed in a variety of ways. Visitors can take a birds-eye view of the site by exploring content by type - artifacts, characters, and places - or by the multimedia which represents it. Visitors can think more geographically and explore the collections by the sites and museums which contain them. Or, information can be explored even more visually by moving around an interactive, zoomable map of Egypt. Visitors more interested in exploring chronological relationships between the elements of Egyptian culture can use an interactive timeline. For a truly impressive experience, the Connections function can be used to visualize the implicit and explicit relationships between the artifacts, places, and people. Connections allows the serendipity of thematic connections in Egyptian culture to be your guide through Eternal Egypt.
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A dynamic media viewer enables easy interaction with the thousands of images and multimedia on the website. The viewer adapts to the media under consideration, allowing zooming for high-resolution two-dimensional images and greater manipulation of panoramic movies and virtual environments. The viewer itself is scalable so that monitors of varying sizes and resolutions can experience the most rich visual presentation of content. IBM Text-to-Speech technology enables spoken narration of the content throughout the website and nicely complements the viewer. As visitors explore a three-dimensional reconstruction of the lighthouse at Alexandria, for example, they can also be listening to the story of how this lighthouse came to be, in English, French, or Arabic.
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Personalization features of the website include My Collection, a persistent "notebook" which allows the visitors to assemble their favorite elements from the site. These elements can be saved for later retrieval on the Digital Guide, allowing a truly multi-modal experience of the same content. For example, visitors can assemble their favorite objects in advance of a trip to Egypt for easy retrieval as a cell-phone based tour upon arrival. My Visit charts a visitor's progress through the website, allowing easy backtracking to precisely the elements that were viewed before. A guided tour of site functions, an interactive page-specific glossary, extensive help section, and a low-bandwidth version for different access speeds rounds out the site functionality that makes Eternal Egypt so special.
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The Eternal Egypt site is served to its World Wide Web audience from a "farm" of IBM xSeries servers located at the MCIT Hosting site in Smart Village, Cairo, Egypt. This infrastructure runs on a Linux platform and has been designed to provide a secure, scaleable, and flexible environment, which makes it possible for the Eternal Egypt website to support millions of "hits" each day.
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