Lean times call for smart solutions, and Estonian IT people are teaming up with historians, geographers and an international consortium in an ambitious five-year project that will essentially upload the country itself to the Internet.
"At first there was E-stonia, which referred to the range of services available by Internet," said Bengt Eklund of Baltiscan AB, speaking on behalf of an Estonian programming team. "Now we're taking the next pioneering step: V-Stonia."
Known in Estonia as E-Varamu, the project is in the most time-intensive phase: data collection and modelling. When the application is ready, V-Stonia promises to have various layers that can be toggled off and on. Besides a geographical map, wealth distribution overlay and the near-photographic quality 3-D terrain view, there will also be a "Dynamic Flow view".
To produce the Dynamic Flow imaging, this summer 5,000 volunteers have been recruited to canvass the country, collecting data. They will not actually send data, but rather they will be blindfolded and their movements tracked by mobile phone positioning.
"This will generate a view of the possibilities of the flow in the social space," says Villu Vilnius, a Tallinn-based landscape designer and "architech". "Where is the public space limited by architectonics, where is it not? Where do people collide interpersonally in real-time?"
The Estonian government has issued an statement stressing that the project should not cause any disruptions to traffic patterns ahead of the tourist season, as many tourists are expected to be virtual this year.
And officials are quick to stress the sustainable aspects of the project as a whole. Government spokeswoman Marta Jasko: "In complicated economic situation, we have to remain innovative and knowledge-based."
Airlines have been approached by Enterprise Estonia as to whether they would offer access to the virtualization database. "The idea would be for tourists flying from, say, Paris to Riga to be able to spend a few hours in V-Stonia without leaving their seat," said the spokeswoman.
Technically, Eklund says he is pleased with the work of the Estonian programmers, who were not available for comment, and that the application should not be resource-intensive.
"Estonia is a fairly compact country and any reasonable server should have the system resources to run it," said Eklund. "In fact you may even be able to run it from a netbook, if you're running it in 'ignore wetlands' mode".
Eklund reassures nature lovers that this does not mean that the countryside will not be subjected to the same exhaustive cataloging as other places. "Ultimately we are going for a comprehensive capture," said Eklund. "But we also have for now a sophisticated modelling technology that will fill in many areas, such as rural precincts, with a basic 'skin'."