VICODI fact sheet

VICODI Innovation

From "context hype" to formalising the notion of context
From building ontologies to demonstrating their use and added value 
Integration of thesauri in an ontology
Novel user interfaces

Need for graphical location-based context
Innovative, Cross-platform and User-friendly Knowledge portal

Technical and Research Innovation

From "context hype" to formalising the notion of context
Our approach to contextualisation will initially, be guided by three prominent proposals:
a) A formal definition of context using a manageable subset of the theory of Situation Semantics (Barwise & Perry, 1983) .
b) A formal definition of context using a proposal by John McCarthy and Sasa Buvac (Stanford University, 1997) , and
c) A semi-formal definition of context using a synthesis of the above - a) and b), proposed by Sowa (Sowa, 2000) .

It must be realised that the notion of context has eluded philosophers and computer scientists alike, and thus, it would be unrealistic to propose a "solution" through a technology project. However, the work to date is sufficient to experiment with smaller subsets of these theories. Work in computational semantics in the early 90s has led to systems that allow the specification of featurised contexts (PROSIT 1993, ASTL 1994, BABY-SIT 1994; see Tin & Akman, 1994) . We aim to analyse this work and integrate a pragmatically motivated subset into the proposed system.
Wurman's LATCH properties will be used in identifying structural mechanisms for storage, retrieval, presentation and navigation.

From building ontologies to demonstrating their use and added value 
A lot of current work elsewhere is devoted to developing ontologies for specific knowledge domains. However, for these ontologies to become useful, three attendant technologies are needed, and VICODI proposes to focus on one of these and use existing knowledge for the other two:
a) ontology-aware authoring tools that are aware of domain knowledge concepts and thus, suited for use by domain experts to augment existing documents with knowledge-relations.
b) advanced, hybrid search engines that combine standard information retrieval techniques with knowledge retrieval (querying knowledge and databases) 
c) inference support to deduce information from ontological markup, thus further increasing the effectiveness of search on the one hand, but also improving the presentation of information for the end user, depending on a structured user model.
For ontology-aware authoring, we will extend current technology by either developing the free OntoMAT framework further, or by seeking collaboration with IST projects Mesmuses and/or CULTOS, which are both developing authoring tools in neighbouring fields. SRFG is involved in CULTOS project and would examine the ways of implementing developments created in the project for VICODI purposes.

Integration of thesauri in an ontology
Our experience in knowledge-representation is that many valuable hierarchies of concepts are already available in the form of thesauri. According to previous research , hierarchical thesauri can be imported to specialise high-level concepts defined in an ontology represented in RDF. This approach makes possible to build quite easily very complex knowledge frameworks when relevant thesauri are available. This is the case in many scientific areas (e.g.: the ACM thesaurus for computer-science, the Common Classification Scheme for natural sciences, etc.). We shall rely on this very effective method of building the knowledge landscape when carrying out compilation/integration of The "Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names" (TGN) and UNESCO Thesaurus of humanities. 
In the area of search and retrieval, we will attempt to integrate standard information retrieval mechanisms with knowledge/ontology based retrieval, and also with XML-driven, thesaurus and catalogue-based retrieval. In addition, we will investigate Neural Network based recommender systems, and how the three or four retrieval technologies can be utilised for contextualisation, leading to an approximation to human associative memory. We will also seek collaboration with SPIRIT, a recent IST project dealing with spatially aware information retrieval on the Internet.

Novel user interfaces - the cartographic map as a new metaphor for knowledge structuring and visualisation
There have been efforts to develop graphic metaphors and browsers to facilitate user understanding of presented data. Xerox's Hyperbolic Browser (and its later modifications, InXight, etc.) is one such example. However, the browser's layout was incomplete: the amount of displayed information compared to the amount of white space was quite sparse. Moreover, the system drew all links in the graph at all times, so highly connected graphs were cluttered. 

A major step forward in this direction was the Visual Net technology (Antarcti.ca) of mapping information databases to make them look like real places, continents where user can browse, zoom and search. The original demonstration available at Map.net (launched Nov. 2000) uses the Open Directory and plots the entire database of over two million Web sites on a map modelled after Antarctica. The top-level categories of the Open Directory are placed on different sections of the continent. Clicking on any category will drill down another level, and all the subcategories will also be pictured to represent their size and content. 
The mapping technique can be applied to any information databases (medicine, business, education, etc.) both Internet and Intranet. 

Although Antarcti.ca server emits XML and the client does the 2D (if selected -3D) rendering, the 2 dimensional interface is not vector-based. However, according to the authors of map.net, the interface "is designed for massive scalability". This means that zooming in and out is the most frequent action to navigate around the database. Each time the user clicks "to zoom" the whole page reloads. 
Using the same idea of database mapping VICODI solves the above-mentioned problem by introducing SVG zooming option that does not induce reloading of the whole page. Moreover, the user feels more comfortable to see already familiar "place" in the information map - just zoomed in, than to discover a completely new outfit (colors, shapes) that appears after page reload (zooming) in the Visual Net technology.

The contextualisation environment proposed by VICODI will use the above-mentioned cartographic approach to display data. Moreover, VICODI will innovate by embedding templated SVG structures which will be "filled in" by contextual information. 

The data visualisation idea used in VICODI is very close to the one of FASTER project (IST-1999-11791) Flexible Access to Statistics, Tables and Electronic Resources. It focuses on Effective XML data presentation and management through visually enriched user environment to enhance immediate user interaction (including visualisation and geographical displays). To reach this goal FASTER emphasises the role of Web based client applications and applets. The use of SVG (very appropriate for this purpose) was not discussed probably due to the early phase of its development in 1999. 

Functional Innovation

Need for graphical location-based context
Preliminary research carried out by VICODI partners showed that the Graphical visualisation of data from the location perspective is highly required in a wide number of sectors - statistics, politics, mass media, business, etc. Such EC projects as ETB (IST-1999-11781) establishing a multilingual net for European schools, as DHM (IST-1999-12884) providing access to history maps of European regions and other undertakings aimed at uniting and displaying structured data for a location-based entity - would remarkably benefit from application of the approach proposed by VICODI. 

Exploitation experience of similar undertakings (Geoworks software developed by Geoworks project, under Esprit 3 ; or GeoWorlds, collaborative project of several US universities to develop technology for military use ) indicates that users are highly interested and motivated to use mapping templates to enter and view data for the needs of military organisations, municipalities, public transport authorities, urban development institutions, etc.

Innovative, Cross-platform and User-friendly Knowledge portal
The innovative approach of eurohistory.net is based on the theory (Keith Andrews) that visual representations of structured information offload cognitive work to the human visual perception system. Understanding graphic interface require less effort than would be necessary through text-based interfaces.

VICODI project will create a graphical web interface that will significantly reduce the need of Internet users to use typing tools in order to search for requested information. By selecting the key parameters (year, historic era, language) the user will need just to roll the mouse over a graphical interface (countries, cities) to see the initial information of the selected object at selected time.

To illustrate the application of the above-mentioned innovative approach VICODI consortium selected the topic of European history and took the challenge of creating one of the world's first knowledge-based web community www.eurohistory.net with SVG interface. The common practice of building knowledge spaces using HTML/Form technique leads to the situation when every platform (Unix/Mac/Windows) looks different resulting in major laying out problems and inconsistent look and feel. Using SVG for GUI-elements (list-boxes, text-boxes, buttons, sliders, etc.) one can completely control every graphical parameter which guarantees consistent look and feel across all platforms.

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VICODI: Visual Contextualisation of Digital Content - 5FP, Information Society Technologies, RTD project 2002-2004