The Semantic Web Technologies Column by Dr. Jessica Chen Burger



A Set of Collaborative Tools for the Semantic Era


Yun-Heh Chen-Burger

AIAI, CISA, Informatics, The University of Edinburgh, UK





A Glue to Join Distributed Places, People and Expertise



Scientists located in different geographical regions are increasingly working closer with each other and relying on each other to accomplish their tasks and achieve common goals. Technologies such as the Access Grid and VRVS provide a suitable communication platform for these collaborations. However, as the tasks become more ambitious and complex, the need grows for additional structured support. The Advanced Knowledge Technologies Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (AKT IRC) project has developed useful knowledge management technologies that provide a good foundation for distributed knowledge sharing that is to be used to assist scientists¡¦ day to day work alongside current Grid collaboration tools such as the Access Grid and VRVS.


The CoAKTinG (Collaborative AKT in the Grid) project [6] draws on and integrates AKT technologies to provide a set of complementary tools to provide this structured support. These tools are often semantic-based and may formally describe the contents of the information stored -- that is used for generating communication with other tools and human. We intend to give a brief introduction that focuses on their functionalities and usages, but not their underlying conceptual models. Four main tools are included: the BuddySpace, Compendium, I-X and the Meeting Replay tool. The combined use of these loosely-coupled tools provides a versatile knowledge-rich collaboration platform. Figure 1 shows snap-shots of these tools in action and how they may cooperate with each other. [1][2][3]


BuddySpace [4], developed at the Open University, provides an informal and fun medium for communication that supports instant messaging, group chat, meeting control, voting and instant awareness of partners¡¦ ¡¥presence¡¦ states and their geographical locations via its visualisation facilities. For instance, the user may describe their locations using existing maps at different scales and may decide to create a new map (e.g. an office plan) to give further details. This information is published through BuddySpace to partners and is updated automatically as the user logs onto the tool from a different location or decides to change his/her current presence state. This technology takes an opportunistic view to forge remote communication where possible, as collaborative partners and working groups are often limited by different time and location constraints. When fully subscribed, BuddySpace literally provides an overview of the most up-to-date status of an entire virtual organisation on a map. 


Compendium [6] is a hypertext-based discussion support tool that draws on theories developed from the issue-based design community that aims to provide meeting facilitation based on collaborative hypertext techniques. Compendium provides an  intuitive visual modelling method to allow the user to capture the contents of a discussion and the relationships between them. The generated model also serves to document the meeting. Compendium may be used as a centralised tool to support real-time and asynchronous meetings, and it may also be used to form a network of communication to support live broadcasting and remote on-line interactions. This technology benefits from a structural conceptual model that allows multi-stranded discussion while giving a straightforward view of potentially very complex and inter-twined subjects.

Figure 1: An overview of the CoAKTinG collaborative tools


The I-X System [7] facilitates task expression, planning, allocation, execution and coordination between partners. At the heart of I-X is a process execution and monitoring tool, the I-X Process Panel. It allows the user to select and follow existing plans drawn from its process library (which they may decide to alter if necessary). Tasks in the plan may also be passed between partners. This task-passing and allocation mechanism is guided by its knowledge of the organisation of the agents involved and by its communication model. The current status of the passed tasks may be monitored by the sender, so that the sender is kept informed and can be pro-active, if necessary. I-X may be used in conjunction with Compendium, BuddySpace and the Meeting Replay tool based on a shared method ontology. When it is used in such a way, its task execution is supported by a fuller background knowledge (e.g. task rationale from Compendium and Meeting Replay tool) and awareness of the dynamic status of its collaborators (e.g. via live feed from BuddySpace).


The Meeting Replay tool is a multi-media management tool that captures meetings on the fly and allows structured documentation and playback of the recording. Because the captured audio and video streams are meaningfully annotated and cross-referenced based on an underlying ontology, the recording may be viewed in a non-linear and ¡§keep to the point¡¨ fashion, thus decreasing the searching and browsing time that one normally would need when given such a large amount of data. This ontology also provides a sound foundation for generating alternative presentations of the same material, e.g. using a hypertext or an OWL [9] based representation. The Meeting Reply tool is linked with all other CoAKTinG tools so that it enhances other tools¡¦ decision making process when doing their tasks. This is accomplished by providing an easier way of meeting recall and rationale comprehension, e.g. by providing direct access to relevant sections of previous meetings.



Case Studies


In this section, we give a brief introduction to sample scenarios in which CoAKTinG tools have been deployed.


CoAKTinG Aids Mars Exploration


The Mars Society ( runs the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project, simulating the conditions under which scientists will have to conduct their field research on any future mission to Mars. The CoAKTinG tools were deployed to help the scientists during a recent ¡¥mission¡¦ ¡V and this also provided useful feedback about the practicalities of using the tools (see the excerpts of Crew Log Book from Mars Desert Research Station below for more details). This exercise involved using Compendium to map the scientists¡¦ EVA planning meetings. The data is then integrated with video, audio and other data streams into the Meeting Replay tool. As well as documenting the mission, it provided the scientists with a means to review their rationale and approach during subsequent planning meetings. Part of the recordings are available on-line at: Below paragraphs give insights to this operation.


Adapted excerpts and summary from Mars Desert Research Station, Crew Log Book May 8 2004: [8]


Danius Michaelides and Kevin Page (Univ. of Southampton, UK): On the final day of the rotation, Maarten Sierhuis managed to video the morning EVA planning meeting. It was late morning in the UK by the time the video was uploaded. It was a real squeeze to get the final replay generated before the RST met ¡V but we managed to rush something out. The Compendium and Meeting Replay tools complement each other very well to provide a structure(d) view of the meeting and data involved. In the last fortnight we¡¦ve gained valuable experience using our tools to support distributed scientists which is what the CoAKTinG project is all about.




Marc Eisenstadt (Open Univ., UK): [by the time of the] teleconference on May 8th most had BuddySpace installed, with their presence displayed live and a group-chat instant messaging room [running]. If someone loses their Internet access, this is immediately obvious as they disappear from BuddySpace.



Simon Buckingham Shum (Open Univ., UK): A critical theme to emerge was the way in which scientific data is organized, with some very interesting ideas emerging on the best ways to navigate data, and of particular interest to us, how the spatial/semantic interface offered by Compendium could support the work practices of the [team] when they are being asked to make sense of huge amounts of data in a short timeframe. It was deeply rewarding to see Compendium operating as an integrated modelling, sense-making and dialogue environment.


In summary, Compendium provides the means to ensure the capture of the analysis for the tasks in hand, while Replay tool allows annotated playback of experiments.


Applying CoAKTinG to e-Science Combechem


The Combechem ( e-Science project aims to provide an end-to-end support for different types of chemical information flow via the synthesis and analysis of large amount of data stored in distributed libraries. Automation of the measurement and analysis is thus critical to ensure effective wide dissemination of the information while ensuring provenance of the raw material generated is preserved. The CoAKTinG tools provide integrated task support for Combechem: e.g. support for the experimental process, tracking and providing awareness of people and machine states, capturing the discussions about data and the original data sources, and producing enriched meta-data regarding these components. 


We illustrate one particular aspect of the integration ¡V the application of the I-X Process Panel to the laboratory, building on the process capture work of Combechem¡¦s Smart Tea team. A snap-shot of this work is shown in Figure 2.


The I-X Process System describes the processes of chemical experiments so that each process may be executed or decomposed into smaller steps. These processes may also be stored for reuse or modified on the fly to suit new requirements. This is important for this domain, as different chemical labs and practitioners will have different practices, preferences and levels of expertise. The flexible retrieval and dynamic multi-level execution mechanisms of I-X allows operations to be carried out at different levels of abstraction while more detailed processes may be consulted or ignored, if so desired. 


The I-X system also contains a visual representation of a real chemistry lab through its Map Tool, where the dynamic location and status of lab resources are displayed. Readings of remote devices and the status of relevant personnel may also be fed to I-X through BuddySpace and shown in the lower frame of the I-X Process Panel. This type of information and knowledge integration promotes collaboration between practitioners. By providing recording and structured reuse of past practice, I-X enables effective experience-sharing between practitioners of similar interests. It also makes it possible for gradual (and radical) performance improvement for the individuals involved or the group as a whole through incremental knowledge sharing and best practice accumulation.


Figure 2: An I-X Process Panel configured for e-Chemists





This article describes some of CoAKTinG¡¦s work; the project website at provides more in-depth descriptions of each tool involved. Sample videos of applications to real-world scenarios are also available through the web site. [10]





The author would like to thank members of the CoAKTinG project and fellow researchers for providing useful information to construct this article: in particular, they are Michelle Bachler, Simon Buckingham Shum, Jeff Dalton, David De Roure, Marc Eisenstadt, Jeremy Frey, Jiri Komzak, Danius Michaelides, Kevin Page, Stephen Potter, Nigel Shadbolt and Austin Tate.


This work is funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council under grant numbers GR/R85143/01 (CoAKTinG) and GR/N15764/01 (AKT) as part of the Advanced Knowledge Technologies Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration. The AKT IRC research partners and sponsors are authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints and on-line copies for their purposes notwithstanding any copyright annotation hereon. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of other parties. The Combechem team provided assistance with the Combechem case study: Jeremy Frey, Gareth Hughes, Hugo Mills, Monica Schraefel and Graham Smith. Combechem is also funded by the EPSRC, under grant number GR/R67729/01.





[1]Michelle Bachler, Simon Buckingham Shum, Yun-Heh (Jessica) Chen-Burger., Jeff Dalton, David De Roure, Marc Eisenstadt, Jiri Komzak, Danius Michaelides, Kevin Page, Stephen Potter, Nigel Shadbolt, and Austin Tate (2004) Collaboration in the Semantic Grid: a Basis for e-Learning, Grid Learning Services. (GLS'2004) at the 7th International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems Workshop (ITS'2004), August 30th, 2004, Maceio, Brazil . (Best Paper Award)

[2]Michelle Bachler, Simon Buckingham Shum, Yun-Heh (Jessica) Chen-Burger, Jeff Dalton, David De Roure, Marc Eisenstadt, Jeremy Frey, Jiri Komzak, Danius Michaelides, Kevin Page, Stephen Potter, Nigel Shadbolt and Austin Tate. Collaborative Tools in the Semantic Grid . GGF 11 Semantic Grid Applications workshop, Honolulu, Hawaii, June 10, 2004.

[3]Michelle Bachler, Simon Buckingham Shum, Yun-Heh (Jessica) Chen-Burger, Jeff Dalton, David De Roure, Marc Eisenstadt, Jeremy Frey, Jiri Komzak, Danius Michaelides, Kevin Page, Stephen Potter, Nigel Shadbolt and Austin Tate. Chain ReAKTing: Collaborative Advanced Knowledge Technologies in the Combechem Grid. Submitted to E-Science All Hands Meeting, August 31 - September 3rd, 2004, Nottingham, UK. 

[4] BuddySpace:

[5] CoAKTinG project:

[6] Compendium:

[7] I-X:

[8] Mars Desert Research Station, Crew Log Book May 8 2004:, and

[9] Web Ontology Language (OWL):

[10] Scenarios of CoAKTinG: