preservation of intellectual and cultural heritage (including fragile materials) traditionally kept in archives, libraries and museums,
support to a range of tasks carried out by professionals: engineers, architects, scientists, medical doctors, surgeons, etc.;
enhancing workflow (including CSCW), transaction oriented (e.g. e-commerce) and other systems.
Tools are needed to perform operations on content, such as: creation, description, annotationstorage, management, manipulation, analysis, search, access, retrieval, communication, presentation … . Many if not all of these tasks are to a greater or lesser extent generic, i.e. independent of any given content application domain.
Areas 1 (Interactive Publishing and Digital Culture) and 2 (Education and Training) of Key Action III are mainly content related and address application specific aspects, whereas Areas 3 (Human Language Technologies) and 4 (Information Access, Filtering, Analysis and Handling or IAF, for short) provide the more generic underpinning, focusing on the 'tools' part of the overall agenda of Key Action III.
Area 4 (IAF) in particular, has been defined to include
… advanced technologies for the management of information content to empower the user to select, receive and manipulate (in a manner that respects the user’s right to privacy) only the information required when faced with an ever increasing range of heterogeneous sources. Improvements in the key functionalities of large-scale multimedia asset management systems (including the evolution of the World Wide Web) will support the cost effective delivery of information services and their usage.
The Council Decision establishing the IST Programme describes the IAF RTD priorities as follows:
… mastering information: rich descriptive models of digital information content, covering all media types and supporting all human senses, …,radically new cognitive relations between the system and users via individualised metaphors or visualisation techniques …
‘Semantic Web Technologies’, the IAF Action Line in the IST Work Programme 2001, translates this mandate into an agenda which picks up on ideas that have been looming for a number of years and that have received their perhaps greatest push from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). An informal paper published on the Web in September 1998, by Tim Berners-Lee, entitled "Semantic Web Road Map", and a more formal note on "Web Architecture: Describing and Exchanging Data" (June 1999) may be considered the seminal documents.
'Making content machine-understandable' is a popular paraphrase of the intentions behind the Semantic Web. In spite of its potential philosophical ramifications, however, this phrase should be taken very pragmatically: content (of whatever type of media) is 'machine understandable' if it is bound (attached, pointing, etc.) to some formal description of itself (often referred to as metadata). Ideally, adding 'semantics to content' in this sense should be achieved through algorithmic content analysis.
'Machine understanding' is not an end in itself. Rather, it should lead to automating a range of tasks within the context of distributed systems (such as the Web): from (chains of) business transactions to searching and filtering relevant and trustable information on whatever subject a user may be interested in. The kind of software performing such tasks is commonly known as 'agents', decorated with varying attributes and qualifications, such as information, intelligent, autonomous, cooperative, adaptive, rational, mobile, etc.
Lastly, human users should be able to interact with their agents (or directly with content) in an intuitively appealing fashion. Visual and/or virtual reality metaphors are perhaps the most likely candidates for representing the semantics of Web content at the man-machine interface (to make, in a manner of speaking, machine-understandable content understandable to humans) and for providing new ways of navigation and search.
The above considerations underly the structure of the 'Semantic Web Technologies' action line, as defined in the draft IST Work Programme 2001 (cf. Annex 3). Indeed, its four strands may be characterized roughly as: formalizing(using XML, RDF and other techniques for semantic interoperability and reasoning such as ontology languages), grounding(formalisms through content analysis), acting (to support knowledge / resource discovery, transactions, intelligent filtering and profiling, collaborative filtering, knowledge sharing) and interacting(e.g. through intuitive visual interfaces).
It relies on knowledge and know-how gained in various Computer Science subdisciplines such as formal modelling, formal logics and formal languages, information retrieval, (multimedia) databases, knowledge engineering, image analysis, etc. Where interoperability (e.g. among information agents) is concerned there is a strong case for agreeing on Web wide standards.
With its focus on Web technologies this new action line takes account of the fact that the rapid growth of the World Wide Web stimulates and motivates R&D opening up new ways of managing multimedia content (primarily images, video and audio but of course also text and plain data) and its delivery via stationary and (increasingly) mobile platforms. It is designed with a view to giving these developments more momentum by creating synergies between hitherto relatively separate R&D (and standards) communities, both in industry and academic/public research.
The IST Key Action III initiative in this field is certainly not isolated or unique. Other IST Key Actions, in particular II (New Methods of Work and Electronic Commerce) and IV (Essential Technologies and Infrastructures), are contributors (and are in fact already hosting relevant projects such as IBROW or ONTOKNOWLEDGE). Yet our initiative may differ from other, similar ones (outside Europe or in individual EU Member States) in that it is slightly broader and more open to knowledge management, multimedia and interface issues.
This workshop may be considered a first test of our agenda and it is heartening to see that our Call for Participation has met with a response well beyond initial expectations, both in terms of number of participants and number of proposed presentations of projects and project ideas. Equally remarkable is the mix of different interests represented. It not only reflects the various aspects of our ‘Semantic Web Technologies’ action line, but also its potential for further research and for viable business applications of current and future developments.
It should be noted that this is just a beginning. Discussions have started on the next European RTD framework programme. We believe that the technologies addressed by this workshop will become crucial for the development and exploitation of digital content in an increasingly networked world. And we are confident that the contributions to this workshop, the ones actually presented and the ones made only in writing, provide enough substance to justify a prominent place for these technologies in any future IST programme.