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Technology | Google teams up with major museums to offer virtual galleries of collections

Issue: "The rise of localism," March 12, 2011

Few have the luxury of visiting the world's premiere art museums, and even fewer can return again and again to peruse the art at their leisure. But the new Google Art Project (googleartproject.com) brings art closer to home. The company partnered with some of the most respected institutions in the world-the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Britain, the Palace of Versailles, and others-in cities including Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Florence, and Moscow. These institutions digitized parts of their collections and created virtual versions of galleries that users can explore using Google's "street view" technology. Users can also create their own "galleries" of works and find out more about each museum, including history, location, and floor plans.

While art historians and artists have long debated the value of digital versions of artworks-after all, seeing a photograph of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is not the same as seeing it in person-the Google Art Project helps bridge the gap by using extremely high-resolution images and allowing users to zoom in very close, allowing them to see the brush strokes and imperfections in the paintings themselves. Google Art Project includes viewing notes for most paintings, along with YouTube clips and artist information.

Almost there

Webcam technology, coupled with services like Skype or Google Talk, already lets college students stay in touch with far-away friends and family. But webcams are also starting to appear in the classroom. Some professors, sensing the ubiquity of the technology, are embracing the webcam as a way to allow students who cannot physically attend class perhaps because of weather or illness to be "present" in the classroom virtually. Webcams also make it possible for professors to invite guest lecturers to class, thereby introducing students to experts without having to fund travel.

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Of course, the technology also presents challenges. Not all classrooms are properly equipped for webcam use, and professors aren't always technically savvy enough to set up the computer and software. Many professors worry that allowing one student to use a webcam to attend class will result in many similar requests, and they are concerned about lecturing to an empty classroom. Yet as webcam technology becomes second nature to students, some professors may find new ways to use it to enhance the classroom experience.

Authentic apps

The iPhone 4 comes with a camera that takes photographs and videos, but the resulting images can be a bit boring. Hipstamatic ($1.99, Hipstamaticapp.com) adds some spice to photographs by mimicking a number of different film stocks, lenses, and flashes. Users can also purchase additional settings for even more variety. 8mm Vintage Camera ($1.99, nexvio.com) takes a similar approach to videos, with settings that can make the results appear discolored, or flicker like a film from the 1920s. What's next? An app that makes emails look like handwritten letters?

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