Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 13 News List

A new window on Taiwan

Culture.tw, a government-funded Web site, is quickly emerging as a crucial resource for English speakers who are interested in Taiwanese culture

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although Culture.tw hasn't started trumpting its existence, it's already making a splash, particularly in the US.

PHOTOS: COURTESY OF CUTURE.TW

With Taiwan's established English-language media outlets behind the Internet/multimedia curve, it's up to a new Web site run from a small office in Taipei's Central News Agency (CNA) building to lead the way.

Culture.tw, which is funded by the Executive Yuan's Council of Cultural Affairs and run by CNA, aims to be the main Internet portal for English speakers around the world who are interested in Taiwanese culture, arts and entertainment.

The project was launched quietly this summer and will only be promoted actively starting next month. Despite the lack of fanfare, though, it already draws most of its hits from abroad, with roughly half of them coming from the US.

"The new Culture.tw Web site is a wonderful reference source for our students," said Dafydd Fell, an academic at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, in an e-mail exchange. Fell is in charge of the school's Centre of Taiwan Studies, which offers an MA and the widest range of postgraduate courses on Taiwan outside of Taiwan. "In the past students had to search through multiple sites, but now it's all under one roof," he said.

Miranda Loney, chief editor of Culture.tw, said that the site was unlike other cultural portals because, in addition to presenting links to local Web sites, it also offers information and articles in a foreign language. "Our site is not just a cultural portal. If we'd have just made a cultural portal it wouldn't have worked," she said. "We had to augment it with lots of English information that wasn't readily available."

She cited a thread on the Web forum ParentPages.net as an example of the kind of feedback Culture.tw has received from its readers. "I have spent hours on this site, reading all the articles and getting lost in links," wrote a poster under the name Asiababy. "I've been in Taiwan twelve years, actively involved in the community, and had NO IDEA there was so much cultural/arts stuff going on."

To be sure, many Taiwan-based English-language Web sites already cover Taiwanese culture, and a few offer a partial multimedia experience. Internet surfers can download podcasts from International Community Radio Taiwan's (ICRT) Web site, for example, or watch videos on the Taiwan News' site. And with 800 unique visitors per day, Culture.tw draws less traffic than several of the more well-known expat blogs.

But Culture.tw has access to CNA's extensive video and audio production resources and takes the multimedia experience to a new level, with videos, audio files and a well-managed collection of links, in addition to a growing collection of articles and pictures. There are plans to add Web 2.0 functions like blogging and user-generated content as part of a redesign next year. Readership is growing, and the site is already one of the first links that pops up when a person enters search terms like "Taiwan culture" or "Taiwanese art" on Google.

Culture.tw was conceived three years ago by a group of academics led by Wu Chin-fa (吳錦發), the assistant director of the Council of Cultural Affairs (CCA). Foreigners were enlisted for a focus group to brainstorm ideas for an "English Web portal" (英文入口網站). The CCA then submitted an RFP, or request for proposals, for companies who were interested in running the site. CNA, a news service that derives a portion of its revenue from the Taiwanese government, won the bid.

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