In February of 1997 the Galerie der Gegenwart (Gallery of Contemporary Art) of the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg Art Museum) was the first museum in the world to announce a net art competition. The event was supported by Philips, the German news magazine, SPIEGEL, and their website, SPIEGEL ONLINE. The name of this competition was EXTENSION, and was meant to be an extension of the museum into virtual space. The competition posed the question of how traditional tasks of the museum, collecting, preserving, mediating, and researching, could be applied to art on the internet.

The call for contributions to EXTENSION asked explicitly not for art on the net, but for net art. Traditional works of art should not be represented in digital format, but artistic works that applied familiar art concepts, such as "material" and "object" to the internet. The Gallery of Contemporary Art entered a new territory with this experiment, and at the same time gained the attention of a world-wide public.

The announcement of EXTENSION met the Zeitgeist of the year 1997. The established art world had started to become interested in this new art form and
tried to deal with it more or less appropriately. Nobody wanted to miss the hype, everybody wanted to take advantage of the potential publicity and -- in the best case -- be the discoverer and supporter of a new art
form. A subcultural phenomenon was about to be turned into high art. But still, the lack of a market potential of this new art form posed great problems for the art world. Net art had to conform to the needs of the market, or the art world had to change.

Typical for this development is the lack of competence and the insecurity of those who show, curate, categorize and judge net art. To deal adequately with net art, those experts who are trained in traditional art, need an understanding of the new medium which is based on practical experience. Without this understanding, the characteristics of net art fall victim to the aesthetic and economic considerations of the curators. This happened at Documenta X, where "net art" was presented predominantly without any connection to the net.

In the case of EXTENSION, it was planned to upload the projects of the artists onto the server of the art museum. What would remain of works based on communication, exchange and interaction with the user and are in a permanent process of change, or with works linked to other sites? In addition to that, the call for contributions implied that the internet and the World Wide Web were the same, and limited net art to web art. What was left out were works that use other protocols such as e-mail, muds and moos, as well as context systems such as The Thing and t0-netbase.