Museums and the Web 2005
Screen Shot: Illustration of the location based service

Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.

Culture Around The Corner And Its Location-Based Application

Martijn Arts and Sophie Schoonhoven, ZaPPWeRK Creative Webdevelopment, The Netherlands


The Netherlands is a relatively small country. Museums and cultural institutions are located within a small distance of each other. Not just Amsterdam but the whole country has a high density of art & culture. This is unique worldwide. But in spite of the highly concentrated offerings of museums, monuments and theatres in the Netherlands, the Dutch seldom are aware that there is a cultural location or event close to their home or office. They just pass it everyday without noticing.

ZaPPWeRK initiated Culture around the Corner to make people more aware of art/culture in their surroundings. Via this location-based service, information about the nearest place of interest is sent to users and received by mobile phone, PDA or Laptop. Users do not need to enter their locations: this is detected automatically.

This non-profit project resulted in a national cultural platform in which the Netherlands Department for Conservation, the Netherlands Museums Association and the National Service for Archaeological Heritage take part. Existing techniques are combined in a creative way. Up till now location based services were not very common in the Netherlands.

The goal of the project is to achieve and maintain a public database in which all Dutch cultural locations are stored. This information is available without charge, for cultural and educational purposes. Technology partners can use this platform in order to research and develop new location-based services. All devices and all techniques will be integrated, connected and tested. The functionalities will be made available for cultural partners.

Keywords: Location based, National cultural platform, information on demand, The Netherlands, creative combination of techniques, accessibility of culture, hand-held

Introduction:  ZaPPWeRK

ZaPPWeRK is a Web communication and technology company based in Delft, the Netherlands. We offer Web design, Web development, content management systems, Web applications, hosting services and consultancy. Three students from Delft University founded the company eight years ago, and it currently employs 28 people (Web designers, programmers, project managers). ZaPPWeRK mainly focuses on clients in the cultural and educational sector; for example, museums, universities and governmental institutions. Once in a while we start our own projects in order to experiment with new technologies and to contribute to social/cultural issues.

How Does The Service Work?

Cultural information is made accessible via mobile phone, PDA or Laptop.  To the mobile phone, information is sent via text messaging, and information also can be found via mobile portals of Dutch Mobile phone companies. The Web site can be consulted via PDA and laptop (WIFI). Whatever instrument you use, the system retrieves your position automatically and matches your location with the location of the specified place of interest.  We also developed a non-location based tool where the location of the person should be entered manually. This is useful when the Web site on your home computer is used, for instance.

Screen Shot: Illustraton of the location based service

Fig 1. Illustration of the location based service

Text Messaging

It's very simple! The user texts monument, museum, theatre or archaeology to a short number and within seconds a text message is sent with information regarding the requested item. Information consists of address, telephone number, opening hours and some general information about the cultural place of interest. The user can also dial a regular telephone number in order to get more information. The computer reads the additional information and the number is mentioned in the text message.   

Mobile Portals

When requesting information via the mobile portal of several Dutch telecom companies, users can navigate via a menu on the mobile phone to the nearest monuments or museums. After selection of one of the items shown, a street map appears, together with the required information, and users can navigate to the nearest monument or museum from where they stand.

Laptop or Handheld

When the information is retrieved via laptop or handheld computer (PDA), more information is sent to the user because of the unlimited amount of data that can be shown on the screen. 

Content Partners

A lot of parties are involved in making this technically innovative location-based service an outstanding success. The Netherlands Department for Conservation (Rijksdienst voor de Monumentenzorg) and The Netherlands Museums Association (Nederlandse Museum Vereniging) supplied the locations of all monuments and museums. The equivalent of Time Out Amsterdam delivers the theatres throughout the Netherlands, and The National Service for Archaeological Heritage (Rijksdienst voor Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek) is the owner of information about archaeological heritage.

Culture around the Corner combined these databases, producing the biggest Dutch national platform with valuable cultural location information. Apart from individual users, local governments and travel agencies are really excited about the service and the content offerings.

The Netherlands Museums Association (Nederlandse Museumvereniging, NMV)

NMV looks after the interests of the museum sector and acts as the representative organ of Dutch museums. The NMV is also active in stimulating knowledge and skills by organizing courses and workshops. It initiates debates and policy development, gives advice, propagates information and issues publications. In addition, the NMV offers marketing support to museums and promotes museums in general. On 1 January 2003,the NMV became publisher of the national museum card.

Netherlands Department for Conservation

The Netherlands Department for Conservation (RDMZ), established in 1947, is the central point for advice, research and know-how in the field of monuments. Its most important task is the protection and conservation of monuments. Not only historic buildings are protected, but also the historical environment, such as townscapes and valuable landscapes. This task is regulated in the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1988. The RDMZ coordinates the knowledge of the built environment, propagates it and stimulates a qualitative correct conservation of this part of the cultural heritage.

The National Service for Archaeological Heritage

 ROB, as its Dutch acronym goes, manages the nation's archaeological heritage on behalf of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. Its mission is to 'give the future a past'.  Dutch Time Out

The Dutch equivalent of Time Out Amsterdam is famous for its breadth and depth of coverage of reviews of movies and plays. The Dutch Time Out Web site features daily news, over 1,000 reviews and unrivalled cinema listings.  (

Technological Partners & Details

ZaPPWeRK started this project to investigate technical boundaries and to address usability issues. The next steps are twofold: first, more partners will be approached and databases will be added to enable the users to have access to all kinds of information (e.g. cinemas, theatres) and secondly, the technology will be perfected.    

New and existing technologies are combined in one platform. The platform used is called MARK. MARK is a ColdFusion programmed toolbox provided with a content management module. This toolbox works via a SOAP protocol in order to communicate with all connected Web services and performs GIS functions such as the converting of zip codes into geo-coordinates. Furthermore, it communicates periodically with the databases of the content partners.

The location of mobile phones is determined via detecting the cell-ID in the mobile network. A GSM antenna detects the mobile phone and knows the area the person is in. GSM network coverage exceeds 99% in urban areas in the Netherlands, and therefore a mobile phone is always detected by more than one antenna. We are now working on improving the accuracy of the detected location by using triangulation. By comparing the intensity of at least three different signals, the position can be precisely monitored. After the location is specified, this location is matched with the information that is required.

The global positioning of PDA's and Laptops works slightly differently, as GSM antennas cannot detect them. Some PDA's and laptops already have a WIFI card (Wireless Fidelity). This card detects signals from 'wireless access points'. These "wireless access points" are transmitters which are usually based at offices, university buildings or other large buildings. As soon as a PDA or laptop has contact with a wireless access point, the user can enter the Internet. The wireless access points are coded with a unique address (MAC), and this address is linked to the geographic coordinates, enabling us to detect the position of the Internet user. In a later version, stadium triangulation will be used, also with WIFI location detection.

At this moment the content of the connected databases (Microsoft SQL Database server and Oracle 8.1.7 Database server) are temporarily migrated/copied to one central database. In the near future, this periodic (automatic) migration of databases will be replaced by a real time connection with both databases.

Technology partners are:

Screen Shot: Structure of Culture around the Corner

Fig 2. Structure of Culture around the Corner

Location Detection

Culture around the Corner and location detection works for GSM and WIFI. Mobile phones connect to the nearest antenna. This information is then entered in the network as the Cell-ID. The geo co-ordinates of these Cell-IDs are known in the network. Vodafone and Telfort make this information available for location-based services, other telecommunications providers do not at this stage. The Culture around the Corner system is therefore limited to Vodafone and Telfort users only (35% of all Dutch mobile phone users). Other users can use the system but do not have the advantage of having their location detected automatically and have to type in the address manually. In the near future, all Dutch operators will make this location information available, and therefore our user base will grow fast.

WIFI (Wireless Fidelity) is used more and more. As more and more individuals, organizations and institutions buy hotspots, the WIFI network is becoming denser and denser in the Netherlands. In some large Dutch cities, such as Enschede and Leiden, local government has invested in a WIFI network that covers the entire city. A PDA or laptop that connects through the Internet by a hotspot can be detected in several ways; for instance, by a WMA call or a server script installed on the hotspot. When our system traces a client to a hotspot, the system looks in a public database where all registered hotspots are stored with geo co-ordinates. Only the registered hotspots can thus be used for localizing users. Together with SURFnet, ZaPPWeRK is now building an open source database for storage of all hotspots. In order for users to manage their visibility in the WIFI, location detection users can use their Jabber software (open standard).  

There are two other location detection technologies, GPS and RF-ID. ZaPPWeRK is setting up two research and development projects to integrate both these technologies. In addition to that, we are analyzing other possibilities such as a python script that reads the Cell-ID client side and a triangulation script that runs client side.

How Do We Import Data?

Several partners deliver the cultural data to us. For the pilot, this was done by manual export and import. The data was exported in CSV, following a predefined structure (see list 1). All values to attributes that are filled in are processed by the system and stored in the database. The data is enriched with geo co-ordinates or addresses by calling a GIS-Web service. Points of interest (POIs) that are delivered with addresses are enriched with longitudes and latitudes, and POIs with geo co-ordinates are enriched with nearest addresses.

This manual import is developed further into a periodical system. This system uses a Web service to call a remote Web service in order to get actual data. Some data is migrated, and other data remains on the remote server that can be addressed by an external key. This system is prepared for decentralized management of POIs using centrally available (location based) Web services. 

List 1.

  • lat = Latitude of the POI in decimal degrees
  • available To = A date until which the POI is available
  • lon = Longitude of the POI in decimal degrees
  • zip code = Zip code of the POI
  • street = Street of the POI
  • available from = Date from which the POI is available.
  • accuracy = **
  • numeric id = Alternative ID for the record; For external applications that can't use UUID's
  • long description = A longer description of the POI
  • label = The name of the POI
  • external id = ID of the supplier of the data, used when updating
  • mac address = Mac Address for WIFI points. Only used for POI of the type Eduroam
  • province = The province of the POI
  • image = A picture of the POI
  • lastupdatedby = The user that last update the POI
  • ownerSiteID = The ID of the site that own
  • audio = An audio file with a spoken description of a poi
  • country = The country of the POI
  • ObjectID = Unique ID of the POI in UUID format
  • description = A short description of a POI
  • vanity address = **
  • url = URL for generic use by external application (e.g. RSS feed URL)
  • city = The city of the POI
  • house number = House number of the POI
  • poi type = A reference to the Object references table which contains a reference to the co_poitype table
  • date time last updated = The date and time at which the POI was last updated
  • created by = The user that created the POI
  • phone = POI phone number
  • date time created  = The date and time at which the POI was created

GPS Based Searching On Own Web site

We would like to integrate GPS detection into this service.

Internet-applications and Web sites are structured semantically. Users click on keywords and navigate to other pieces of information. This kind of navigation has been the only way to navigate through information for quite some time. Besides this kind of navigation, location-based navigation is becoming more and more common now, as location detection and mobile devices are widely available. ZaPPWeRK believes that this type of navigation will be very important for it is very user-friendly if worked out properly. We therefore propagate the geo-enrichment of content and promote this in the Netherlands in the project Culture around the Corner. Geo-enrichment of data is a very simple process. An address can be transformed into a geo co-ordinate (longitude and latitude) and geo co-ordinates can be transformed into addresses. Geo-enriched data can be visualized not only in lists and texts but also on geographic maps and navigation systems. The geo-enrichment process is very simple but the process of choosing and integrating the correct GIS-Web services is complex as an increasing amount of services is becoming available.  

Funding Structure

Culture around the Corner is a project initiated by ZaPPWeRK. ZaPPWeRK produced the concept itself: the design and the development of the platform. SURFnet participated in making the concept work and helped in doing the technical design. Both these initiators have funded the project out of their R&D budgets. Smaller but not insignificant contributions have been made by the Netherlands Museums Association and the Netherlands Department for Conservation. Together these four financial contributions were enough to develop the system. Extensions are developed with project budgets that are made available by (new) partners that have specific requests. The ongoing costs consist of geo coding, maps, Cell-IDs, text messages, hosting and ZaPPWeRK plans to transform the project into a (non-profit) foundation during 2005. The content-partners will be the editorial board of this foundation, the financial contributors will take part in the advisory board, and a small (part-time) operational staff will continue the business as usual. Other organizations and institutions can easily participate if no commercial goal is being served, and the government is more likely to subsidize this foundation. Until that time, it will remain a project of ZaPPWeRK.

Revenues and Advantages

Culture is being made accessible for the general public in the Netherlands. Lejo Schenk, director of the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, states: "Culture fits everyone and often one is not aware of the closeness of it. Through this initiative people get a final push which is necessary.” and "it leads to more culture in the virtual cosmos”.

The current content partners chose to participate because they want people to experience culture in every possible way. Culture suffers from a somewhat old-fashioned image, and by using fashionable communication instruments, this image is improved radically. New potential customer groups are reached and attracted. The location-based service stimulates a totally different target group to visit a museum. Eventually this service leads to an increase in the number of visitors.

The data supplied by our content partners is enriched by geo-coding locations. We match every zip code with longitude and latitude data, and this information can be used for other purposes in future as well. It also helps in archiving our Dutch monuments in a valuable way. 

The service is free of charge and it should be highly accessible. The advantage for the technical partners is the experience in using new technologies and developing services. Investment efficiency is high because of the shared costs between the cultural content providers.  Another advantage has been extensive cooperation within the Dutch cultural sector.

Plans for the Future

Voice service

A voice service is added in the new version of Culture around the Corner. In the received text message, a telephone number is included, from which people can get more spoken information about monuments or programming in theatres and museums. The texts are generated by our computer which is linked to the databases of the content partners.


Up until now we focused on the accessibility of the service by using text messages as the main information instrument. The only problem that occurs is that sometimes the location is not accurate enough, especially outside urban areas. We will expand the service by adding GPS detection. As in many countries, the capabilities of mobile phones rapidly increase, and soon every phone will feature a GPS receiver. 


This goes for RF-ID as well. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a method of remotely storing and retrieving data using devices called RFID tags. An RFID tag is a small object, such as an adhesive sticker, that can be attached to or incorporated into a product. RFID tags contain antennas to enable them to receive and respond to radio-frequency queries from an RFID transceiver. This enables the determination of an exact location.

Tourism and other purposes

The Dutch Tourist association is interested in this service as it enhances the possibility of guided walks with a personal mobile phone. Furthermore, the culture map can be integrated in all municipal Web sites.

The technical base of the service can be used easily for other non-cultural institutions as well. The Dutch environmental organization would like to use the service for (self)guided walks and for interaction between nature lovers. Locations of just-spotted rare animals can be exchanged. For this application, GPS is preferable. To promote sports in the Netherlands, the NOC NSF is considering entering locations of sports locations.

Non-Profit Foundation

Culture around the Corner becomes a non-profit foundation by the end of this year. The content partners are responsible for the quality of the information, and that is why the future foundation chooses to work with nationally established institutions. The project will be managed and supervised by the foundation. 

Potential Involvement Of Individual Institutions

Culture around the Corner aims at being a national player distributing and offering all cultural locations. Culture around the Corner does not have an administrative office as it is a virtual organization. The number of partner-contacts that can be maintained is therefore limited. As a consequence, we don't have contact with individual institutions but only with relevant 'umbrella' institutions. As the system and all functionalities become more and more developed, we can make the service available to individual institutions as well. These institutions can manage and improve their own content, they can place the 'culture-map' on their own Web sites and they can be part of a tourism city tour, and much more.


Decentralized functionalities can be implemented in Web sites of individuals, but currently this is realized manually. In the future this will be done via an on-line shop. Then individual institutions can register themselves, select their preferred service, and finish by paying for using the service. Some individual institutions can offer other services in payment for the use of our services. All is aimed at making as much cultural information available as possible for a minimum costs to the end-user.

Cite as:

Arts, M. and S. Schoonhoven, Culture Around The Corner And Its Location-Based Application, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at