Museums and the Web 2005
Panoramic view of medien.welten from the entrance

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

Media Stories:  An Integrative Storytelling In Physical And Virtual Spaces

Otmar Moritsch, Technisches Museum Wien, Austria


The development of multidimensional storytelling embedded in physical exhibitions is investigated by the example of the new permanent exhibition medien.welten, at the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna), which deals with history of media.

Starting from traditional exhibitions with physical objects and artefacts displayed with printed text and pictures, the extension and integration of a virtual exhibition layer with digital objects and multimedia will be investigated systematically. Within the virtual layer, a two-dimensional ordering structure related to topic and time allows following stories in vertical and horizontal lines. The two dimensions make it possible to organize the stories not only according to one specific topic in chronological order, but also according to a specific time period with a topic order. Each element in this two-dimensional matrix also has inner dimensions, i.e. spaces with digital objects, for deeper levels of detailed stories and further digital exhibition spaces. The system allows access via the Web with individual user profiles.

The embedding of a scientific publication platform, which is directly connected to the matrix structure, allows an interactive forum for topic-related contributions. The multi-user system also allows external experts to produce and edit content in the publication area. The whole system has recursive cycles where the content generated by the contributions in the publication platform can be used by curators to extend any of the physical or virtual parts of the exhibition system.

Keywords: Cultural heritage, Multimedia, Virtual exhibition, Virtual museum, Storytelling, Personalization, Information space

Physical and Virtual medien.welten

The new medien.welten permanent exhibition at the Technical Museum of Vienna presents a unified history of the modern media system. It deals specifically with transfer and storage media – with post and telecommunications on the one hand, and with graphic, print and data processing media on the other.

The juxtaposition of the individual genealogical media histories shows how they are converging and also highlights the convergence that took place long before the computer era – such as the merging of photographic representation and lithographic reproduction techniques. Directly exposed printing permits the mass printing of photographs, the combination with telegraphic media and their remote transmission.

Screen Shot: Panoramic view of medien.welten from the entrance

Fig 1: Panoramic view of medien.welten from the entrance.

Media history is thus the story of an increasing convergence and interlinking of individual media to form the complex media system of today, characterized by the merging of transfer and data media on the computer and through the Internet.

The new media platform is beginning to incorporate all classical media forms. Technical convergence also brings with it a cultural convergence that gives rise to new utilizations – such as interactive Internet radio and television, for example.

The medien.welten exhibition shows how today's media society has evolved and is designed to help visitors to better understand and deal with the media world in which they live.  The exhibition functions on more than one level: at the physical level, through the historical exhibits, as in a classical museum; and at a virtual level, through the computer terminals that also fulfill orientation and information functions.


Computer terminals are set up at the entrances to the exhibition areas and provide an animated layout plan of the exhibition. The visitor can call up the different thematic areas on a touch screen to obtain an overview of the geographical layout of the exhibition and the subjects dealt with.

This orientation system is available only in two-dimensional form at present, but a three-dimensional animated version is planned to enable visitors literally to take a virtual tour. The three-dimensionality will give visitors an intuitive experience of the physical layout as a whole in a way that a physical exhibition extending over several building areas cannot do. Users can then simulate a tour of the exhibition with brief graphic portraits of all the thematic areas, including introductory texts to explain them. The virtual orientation system thus offers an overview of the themes dealt with before a visit – possibly a selective one – to the exhibits themselves.


The Terminals in the historical exhibition areas offer subject-specific information and provide visitors with a comprehensive, systematically structured multimedia history of the media as an incitement to further in-depth consideration and reading.

The medien.matrix, as it is called, contains texts on ten media topics, such as writing, images, or sound, in thirteen epochs from Antiquity to the present day. The chessboard-like structure allows the texts to be read both vertically, from the beginnings to the present status of a media theme (such as writing), and horizontally, to provide connections between different media in the same epoch (such as the turn of the century).

The texts reflect the interaction between cultural phenomena, technical developments, economic interests and the political situation. They create an interdisciplinary picture of the relationship at a particular time between society and its media system, placing the physical exhibits in a socio-historical context.

To enable readers to immerse themselves completely in the historical worlds, the texts are backed by sounds representing the epoch and are embedded in theme-related collages of contemporary images. Behind these images is a further information level in the form of digital objects illustrating the topic in question – historical images, film sequences, audio documents or computer animations.

Virtual Museum

This multimedia medien.matrix forms the basis for the future virtual exhibition level of medien.welten. The time-theme matrix will be supplemented by a third dimension – virtual exhibition rooms in all time-theme fields. These virtual rooms will contain digital (including three-dimensional) exhibition material that will permit  the demonstration of the functioning of a machine as a virtual reality application and will expose the often mysterious inner workings of appliances.

One example of this technique is the Enigma decoding machine. The exhibit offers visitors an insight into the functioning of the machine and also enables them to experiment with it themselves, something that is not, of course, possible with original exhibits. The Enigma animation also offers a socio-historical context, particularly its use in wartime, and puts the technical ingenuity into a critical perspective.

The exhibition rooms in this virtual museum also contain arrangements of specific historical objects. Collections that could not be physically exhibited because of their volume can be shown here selectively: historical media machines and appliances or historical media products such as printed matter, lithographs, photographs, radio, television or film sequences, etc. As well as the inventory of the Museum itself, it is also planned to present objects from partner institutions. By its very nature, the virtual exhibition is flexible and can therefore be supplemented at any time by topical applications.

Virtual Library And Publication Series

A further dimension of the future virtual museum is provided by the thematically integrated publication forum. This is also based on the time-theme structure of the medien.matrix and offers essays and illustrated texts on the various topics.

The virtual museum is thus supplemented by a digital publication series, as it were, offering the necessary background to both the virtual and the physical exhibition themes. Together these illustrated histories will ultimately combine to provide a comprehensive history of the media in Central Europe, material which will naturally be useful to the scientific community as well.

In this context, there are also plans for the creation of a complete digitized library consisting of publications, theses and dissertations from all relevant disciplines in cooperation with the various specialist institutions – university institutes, libraries, archives or museums. This virtual library will offer researchers not only a collection of literature but also a series of research tools.

A further element of the virtual museum is a complete object inventory,  intended for specialist users. It will offer researchers and other interested parties the entire range of subject-specific collection objects in a database structure with the necessary research tools.

The involvement of scientific institutions is prompted by the idea of active participation in the research process with a view to in return receiving the latest findings and productions for exhibition purposes. An editor system will also therefore be located at this scientific level to permit colleagues from the various disciplines to publish their research findings in the virtual library.

The increasing flow of information received in this way will in turn be channeled into the digital publication series or the virtual exhibition rooms and medien.matrix texts, making them immediately accessible to visitors.


A personal key to the virtual exhibition room will be provided in the form of a smart.card. With this card, visitors will be able to log on personally to the system and also make use of a number of additional functions. In the first place, the smart.card can be utilized as an orientation aid to show the way through the exhibition, indicating the terminals that have already been visited and those that have not yet been consulted.

The smart.card also provides an individual address for communication with other card holders. Above all, however, it offers an individual depot for digital exhibition items from the virtual medien.weltentexts, images, audio documents, etc. After the visit, the data collected in this way can be called up on the Internet and downloaded from home.

Finally, the smart.card also carries various special features – for school groups, for example, who can use their cards for joint research in the exhibition: the pupils can exchange information through the communications function on the smart.card.

For teachers, researchers or others with a particular interest in using the extended areas of the virtual medien.welten for study purposes, a gold smart.card with special rights can also be issued. This smart.card gives access to all texts in the library and digital publication series, to inventory objects, and to specific research tools. It can be used in the Museum and also externally via the Internet.

The structure of the virtual medien.welten will be Web-enabled for future placement on the Internet, although this feature is not planned at present. For us, the virtual museum is initially an extension of the Museum's own exhibition space into virtual rooms. This will offer more space in general and also give greater scope for enhanced educational quality.

Cite as:

Moritsch, O. , Media Stories: An Integrative Storytelling In Physical And Virtual Spaces, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at