Workpackage description: 2: Technical and Scientific Coordination of Research and Demonstrations

Workpackage number: 2

Start date or starting event: Month 1

Lead Partner: W3C-ERCIM (2)

Participant short name: ILRT W3C-ERCIM CCLRC HP STILO
Participant number: 1 2 3 4 5
Person-months per participant: 0 13 0 0 0

Total number of deliverables: 3


Description of Work

This workpackage provides for technical and scientific leadership of the SWAD-Europe project, and complements the administrative, financial and reporting role of the Project Management workpackage. The role of this workpackage is to ensure that the diverse strands of research, implementation and outreach which constitute the project share a common technological and architectural approach, and that this is consistent with the work and goals of W3C's activities in related areas.

While the Project Management work is based with the Lead Contractor (University of Bristol), scientific and technical coordination is the primary responsibility of ERCIM (representing the W3C team's involvement in the project). This division of coordination responsibilities reflects the unique industrial, research and standardisation context within which the SWAD-Europe project is situated. Successful coordination of SWAD-Europe's technical and standards-related content requires both effective internal project communications, as well as communication with representatives of stakeholder communities and standardisation efforts.

To ensure the high quality and ongoing relevance of SWAD-Europe's technical and scientific work (in research, demonstrators and dissemination), WP2 will establish an independent Advisory Group, drawing on representatives from the four stakeholder communities outlined below. Effort allocated in WP2 will also ensure that all SWAD-Europe activities can draw upon and feed into relevant standards activities, at W3C and elsewhere. Wherever possible, this will be achieved through existing W3C mechanism such as Coordination Groups, Interest Groups, and W3C's network of national Offices, both European and world-wide. An open approach to project technical discussions will be maintained, so that the developers contributing to each workpackage have full access to discussions happening elsewhere in the project. External feedback and contributions will be possible through public mailing lists, providing early and informal input into technical design choices from all interested parties.

General Approach

Technical coordination of SWAD-Europe will involve a number of mechanisms and strategies; these are described in more detail below. Project-internal coordination and dependency management mechanisms are accompanied by a number of mechanisms designed to relate the production of SWAD-Europe's formal contracted deliverables to the needs of four key target communities. The initial technical workplan for SWAD-Europe was created during 2001 and early 2002, and as such reflects some contemporary concerns such as the relationship between XML and RDF, or between the Semantic Web and Web Services architecture. Maintaining relevance and responsiveness to unanticipated industry developments is a major challenge for European projects. The technical coordinator, with expert and stakeholder input through the Advisory Group, is reponsible for ensuring that all workpackages undertake useful and relevant work, and that this is done within the constraints imposed by the initial project plan.

Web technology is a rapidly evolving field, and it is impossible at project creation to anticipate all relevant industry trends. The WP2 coordination role, alongside that of the Project Manager, may therefore involve close liaison with SWAD-Europe's Project Officer to ensure that the technical content of SWAD-Europe's formal project deliverables remains relevant to current industry and consumer needs. This might (through consultation with the Advisory Group) involve proposing re-prioritisation of effort and focus amongst the agreed deliverables, to remain responsive to a changing environment and user needs.

W3C's Semantic Web initiative is based around the idea that there are some generic technologies and strategies that can be applied to a wide variety of information management problems, providing a powerful unifying approach to Web-based information management. In the SWAD-Europe project, we put this idea to the test by exploring the application of W3C Semantic Web technology to a variety of real-world application areas. SWAD-Europe combines work in some relatively new territory (distributed trust systems), work on cross-domain supporting technology (query languages and APIs to support tool developers, scalable storage systems), alongside community outreach, demonstration and documentation activities.

Rather than explore technical issues in the abstract, SWAD-Europe places a strong emphasis on grounding technical and standards work in practical, real world scenarios. The role of WP2 (Technical and Scientific Coordination of Research and Demonstrations) is to ensure that all these diverse activities are conducted in a consistent and mutually beneficial manner, and that a practical balance is found between technology sharing across work-packages and dependency minimisation.

The general approach proposed here for managing technical consistency throughout the project is to combine an open approach to inter-project communications with the use of W3C Semantic Web specifications and draft specifications as common cross-project standards. This approach both reduces the need for rigid and expensive technical coordination between workpackages, while providing a valuable deployment testbed for these Semantic Web specifications.

W3C and Standards

SWAD-Europe embodies a strong commitment to the role of standards as a foundation for the evolution of the Web into a Semantic Web. The direct involvement of members of the W3C's Semantic Web team in this project (through the ERCIM contractor) is based on practical first-hand experience with the creation and deployment of key Semantic Web technologies, notably RDF. W3C's Semantic Web Activity includes an Advanced Development component to ensure that W3C's formal standards work is complemented by field testing, prototyping and quality assurance activities. SWAD-Europe has been designed to contribute to this initiative in the following ways:

In addition to W3C's activities, the work of numerous standardisation and industry bodies (eg. IETF, ISO, Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, RSS...) is relevant to SWAD-Europe's goals and to the ongoing coordination of the research, documentation and demonstrators produced within the project. While the primary focus of the project is to support W3C's Semantic Web initiative, involvement with other standardisation efforts will be encouraged. Two specific mechanisms are planned as part of WP2's technical and scientific coordination: liaison through the SWAD-Europe Advisory Group and through W3C's Semantic Web Activity. It is not possible to coordinate directly with every relevant standards-related group. WP2's Advisory Group activity is intended to ensure that a representative cross-section of the stakeholder community has representation within the project. More detailed liaison with other standardisation efforts will be conducted through consultation with W3C's Semantic Web Coordination Group.

Target Communities and Quality Assurance

The following communities in particular are the focus of SWAD-Europe's work. The project identifies four primary consumers of the project's output; these are described in more detail below. Representatives of each will be solicited for the Advisory Group; in addition, the ongoing technical work within the project will be conducted in a manner that encourages frequent and informal communication between project team members and representatives of these groups. This approach combines aspects of the outreach and dissemination work (see WP3) with the technical coordination strategy. Rather than adopt a rigid top-down approach to technical design, SWAD-Europe deliverables will be produced in a collaborative environment that solicits direct involvement from interested stakeholders.

The quality and relevance of SWAD-Europe's contribution to the development of the Semantic Web, and the Web as a whole, will be monitored through close links to W3C via the Semantic Web Activity, and through the establishment of an independent, international Advisory Group, with members drawn from the four main consumer groups for SWAD-Europe. These categories also inform the education and outreach aspects of the project described in WP3. These groups, while initially described here due to their role in scientific and technical quality assurance, will also be relevant to the management of many of the other workpackages.

Internet, Web and Open Source developer Community

Since RDF became a W3C Recommendation in 1999, it has seen significant adoption by Web developers and opensource software projects. SWAD-Europe builds on this, and on W3C's existing Open Source software projects (such as Amaya, CWM, SiRPAC, Jigsaw) by acknowledging and explicitly focussing on Internet-oriented opensource software projects as a key Semantic Web stakeholder community.

Academic and Research Community

The ideas and technologies currently termed "Semantic Web" are largely derrived from long-established work in Computer Science, Information Retrieval, Knowledge Representation, Logic and related areas. Semantic Web development requires and understanding of the additional architectural and pragmatic requirements imposed on traditional technology from these fields by the global, distributed Web architecture. Many experts from the academic and research community have an in-depth understanding of the relevant theory, literature and tools, but little familiarity with Web and Internet standards and the architectural principles of the Web. SWAD-Europe will seek ways of drawing academic researchers (and their students) into the Semantic Web developer community, through (for example) FAQ documents, sample datasets and student project proposals.

Content and Tool Producers

If SWAD-Europe is to succeed in stimulating Semantic Web adoption throughout Europe, it will need to provide tools, technology and advise to make it easier to publish data online in Semantic Web (RDF, WebOnt etc) form. Several workpackages produce tools (eg. XSLT translations) that could facilitiate this. By focussing on Content and Tool producers as a critical consumer of SWAD-Europe deliverables, the probability of these tools resulting in more RDF/XML online content is greatly increased. Following the scenario-led approach of the SWAD-Europe demonstrator and outreach activity, there will be a stong emphasis on the production of simple, clearly written documents for mainstream developer and content producing audiences. Providing tool-supported answers to common questions like "How (and why!) do I deploy Dublin Core and RSS on my website" is a major activity of the project.

Industry and Commerce

To date, Semantic Web technology (particularly RDF and Ontology languages) adoption has been most rapid in the academic, research and open source / internet environment. A number of companies have products, services and data formats that employ RDF, but often commercial solutions adopt a solely XML-based approach. SWAD-Europe will not focus directly on outreach to and involvement of corporate stakeholders; instead, SWAD-Europe's deliverables are intended to provide the raw materials (FAQs, free tools etc) that make the Semantic Web approach more attractive and understandable to such an audience. The SWAD-Europe project consortium includes commercial representation (HP Labs, Stilo), and further input from Industry will be solicited through W3C.

European and International Involvement

The Semantic Web community is an international one. SWAD-Europe is committed to maintaining and building upon existing international collaborations, to the adoption and promotion of international standards, and to increasing the involvement and visibility of European Semantic Web developments on the world stage. This will be achieved through the SWAD-Europe Advisory Group (below), and through liaison with W3C, in particular through W3C's international Offices network.

Advisory Group

Technical coordination will be supported by the creation and active involvement of a SWAD-Europe Advisory Group. AG membership will include representatives from each of the four groups outlined above. The Advisory Group will:

The initial membership of the Advisory Group will be established during months 1-2. Representation from the US will include Professor James Hendler, Director ofSemantic Web and Agent Technologies, University of Maryland, continuing his advisory role during the project proposal stage.

Internal Project Direction and Communications

At the beginning of the project it will be necessary to situate each workpackage within an overall architecture, including related technologies not directly examined within the project. It will be necessary to identify relevant committees, organisations and standards bodies to liaise with, and communicate this information to the project partners. Effort allocated in WP2 includes resources to provide additional technical expertise when demanded within other workpackages, for example by soliciting advice from Advisory Group members or the wider community. The technical coordinator (project Director) will in general be available for ad-hoc meetings with project team, Advisory Group members and other stakeholders on one specified day each week. This may include frequent on-site meetings arranged with workpackage coordinators and external experts.

All technical discussions undertaken within this project will be conducted on publicly-archived mailing lists which will be open to all project team members from partner sites. This work will involve identifying, analysing and discussing appropriate technical designs within the project consortium, disseminating design decisions made within the project to other W3C efforts, and liasing extensively with all project partners and related organisations. To ensure the relevance and quality of SWAD-Europe's technical work, an Advisory Group will be established.