SWAD-Europe EU IST logo

Themes: Future Directions

What difference did SWAD-Europe make?

As always with such projects, some areas proved more rewarding than others, and the emphasis of the project evolved in response to successes and opportunities. A significant achievement of the project has been in the area of outreach and community-building. The SKOS work [SKOS] has helped to re-engage the digital library / thesaurus community. The ten workshops held as part of the project have attracted diverse participants from multiple countries and specialities, and from the research, Open Source and business communities. Other successful work in the project has included software development, in particular the leading opensource C implementation of RDF in Redland/Raptor; and well-crafted and appealing demonstrators in the areas of Semantic Blogging and Semantic Portals, showing that Semantic Web applications can be simple, practical and easy. The pragmatic 'walk before we run' focus of the project was appreciated both by Semantic Web sceptics and by enthusiasts. Project members have also made substantial contributions to the editing and chairing of the RDF Core standards, and later, helped to establish 'Semantic Web phase two' groups at W3C: the Data Access working group and the Semantic Web Best Practices and Deployment working group.

The overarching aim of the project was to provide, through all appropriate means, a body of answers to questions that had previously gone unanswered, and to foster grassroots communities within which such concerns are addressed. Amongst its many themes, SWAD-Europe provided detailed answers to developer questions about RDF query and storage (analysis of scalability issues; query languages; APIs), and human-oriented classification (SKOS for thesauri, bookmark sharing etc.; semantic blogging). The project's final workshop was on the theme of FOAF, Social Networking and the Semantic Web, and illustrated some of the strengths of the project, combining presentations from academic, commercial and opensource perspectives with active collaborative work on tools and applications.

One lesson from the project is that it is both important and rewarding to provide an environment where members of the larger community that surrounds W3C can interact and collaboratively explore the practical issues around Web technology. The formal work of the W3C is based on small, highly focussed Working Groups where individuals commit a lot of time to creating new Web standards. SWAD-Europe's primary contribution was to help create a supportive background environment for such work, by allowing a much larger number of geographically-dispersed individuals to participate (through email, IRC, workshops and the Web) in the Semantic Web initiative. The project was, in the Semantic Web scene, unique in its emphasis of the practical and Web aspects of "Semantic Web" for a Web developer audience. The support that SWAD-Europe provided to the RDF and Semantic Web Interest Group was an important exploratory step towards a model for wider participation in Web standardisation work, showing that W3C's successful Working Group-led approach can be complimented by a broader participation model which allows individual researchers and implementors to make real contributions to the deployment of existing standards and to the creation of new ones. The challenge for the future is to work towards a Web in which all European research efforts contribute to the communities which underpin the evolution of Web standards.