In the initial stages of virtual museums development, on-line activity has primarily consisted of extending and modifying established forms of artistic and museological networking, presentation and distribution. In a few cases, issues surrounding the changing relationships enabled by interactive technologies are being addressed and worked through. Driven by both utopian hopes for cultural democracy, and existing expectations and needs, artistic and museological activity on the Internet could more fully engage with, and be transformed by, interactive technology. But for such activity to occur and thrive, more practical provisions must develop. Computer networks should be designed, for example, to facilitate the rapid delivery of multimedia material, increase the capacity for information storage and processing, and develop compatible programs and standards. Resistance to online activity by artworld enthusiasts must also be examined. Many dismiss the virtual museum on the basis of principles stemming from high modernism and liberal humanism in which art is constituted as a repository for the good, the ethical and the creative in order to resist the technologically-driven ravages of modernity. Moreover, systems of cataloguing, search and retrieval need to be designed to navigate the relatively boundless quantities and forms of information available through computerized networks without reinforcing the limits of established disciplinary and institutional biases. Most importantly, there needs to be an ongoing examination of the virtual museum’s sociocultural implications. For example, how will emerging forms of interactivity affect issues surrounding access, identity, community, property, governance and the creation and organization of knowledge?
As the virtual museum emerges, it will no doubt inflect existing forms of museo-logical and artistic practices whose primary locus is rooted in the discursive organization of objects in physical exhibition spaces. The Internet’s communication and information gathering capacities, and the ability to bypass geographically determined boundaries could reconfigure our current conceptions of museum collections and artistic spaces previously shaped by the limits of strict disciplinary, institutional, organizational and perceptual categories. In the virtual museum more flexible modes are emerging to facilitate intellectually diverse forms of knowledge that can consider the multidimensional complexity of socio-cultural, political and economic issues.
While these potentials are speculative, at present the Internet’s virtual museum is emerging as an expanded, heterogeneous instance of the museum without walls. Interactivity, a primary organizing principle of the virtual museum, is constituted as a social relationship which shapes the reflexive ties between art, new media and cultural change. It is a mode of communication enhanced by technology, is used in rhetoric to legitimate the interests of corporations, and configures knowledge as a collection of dynamic and interrelated linkages. Moreover, interactivity is a political activity linking technological change to monopoly practices as well as a method through which to identify and create conditions for socially compelling expression and agency. And finally, in the interface between public and private sector institutions there is the controversial challenge of negotiating these ever-mutating boundaries to bias cultural access over monopolizing interests, and social responsibility over short-term profits.