International Semantic Web Working Symposium
sponsored by the
National Science Foundation, Information and Data Management Program
Stanford University, California, USA
July 30 - August 1, 2001
The Web Services and Web Applications Track of SWWS was facilitated by Sheila McIlraith (Stanford University) and Jim Hendler (DARPA). It was comprised of ten paper presentations and an invited talk. Participants included academics, researchers, students, and IT professionals from startup companies, large companies and the government. The track was organized so as to allow time for not just presentations, but also for interaction between attendees and presenters and for open discussion among the participants. The track, as the name implies, included two main themes: the application of semantic web technologies on the web and the emerging area of web services.
The papers relating to applications of the semantic web showed that real applications are starting to emerge, that demonstrate the use of this new technology and the exciting things that can be done. The applications presented include:
- The Briefing Associate: A software tool that allows the automatic creation of semantic web markup while using Microsoft Powerpoint to create briefings.
- IT Talks: A system deployed at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which is used for the advertisement of talks in the information technology area. The system used semantic mark up to suggest which talks a user might wish to see, and to note scheduling problems. Markup of the abstracts was augmented by use of automated extraction tools.
- Open Learning Repository: A set of tools and techniques that use semantic web technology for building and managing e-learning repositories.
- Web Site management: A methodology by which ontologies help in the specification and personalization of web sites and the management thereof.
- An ontology-based tool for web site terminology indexing.
- Cream: a tool for the creation of metadata terminologies and for using them in annotating documents.
Participants were pleased to see this evidence that the research ideas in the semantic web are starting to transition to real applications. Discussion focused on the commercialization aspects of some of these applications, on the commonalities and differences between the approaches, and on the efficacy of semantic markup for use in deployable applications.
Several issues emerged as critical needs to be addressed in moving applications from research to practice. Two in particular were felt to be critical for the future success of these systems:
- How do we deal with the diversity of languages and tools that are starting to emerge for semantic content. Currently XML, XML schema, RDF(S), DAML+OIL, WebML, and various other tools are available for metadata storage, querying, etc. It is clear that there is a need for unifying frameworks, toolkits, etc.
- The need for well-defined semantics in the metadata languages. Many of the applications we saw in this session were using ontology languages like DAML, or extensions of RDF(S). Consensus was that completing the RDFS standard, and moving to a web ontology standard that extended RDFS and XML Schema was important for these applications.
Three papers and an invited talk focused on web services, with a particular emphasis on the interaction of Semantic Web and Web Services. Paper topics included a discussion of the proposed DAML-S ontology-based services language, and on how to advertise and search for web services. In addition, James Snell from the Emerging Technologies group at IBM presented an invited talk on the emerging "acronym hell" of web servics. He discussed many of the emerging specs, particularly UDDI, SOAP and WSDL. This was followed by a lively discussion of web services and the directions this work is taking in industrial practice.
Based on the presentations and discussions, it became clear that web services is emerging as an important application for the Semantic Web, and a hot-bed of activity in industry -- web services are hot. Currently, however, there is little or no "semantic" web in the web services world, but participants felt this was sure to follow. Industry is currently focusing on the development of technology and infrastructure languages and tools to support web services. This includes a welter of approaches including service advertisement languages and registries (WSDL, UDDI), service protocols (SOAP), workflow description languages (WSFL, XLANG) and software frameworks (.Net, WebSphere, and eSpeak). A number of large software/hardware vendors are focused heavily on web services (e.g. Microsoft, IBM, Sun and HP).
It was also clear that there was a lot of academic work in this area, with a number of projects being inherently interdisciplinary with participants from AI, networking, databases, business schools and other groups. Support for this research is coming from both the US government (DARPA) and the EU IST program.
A number of issues arose from the discussions in this session. These include some shared concerns with the applications track with respect to languages, tools and infrastructure as described above, and some particular issues including:
- How can academic researchers interact with the emerging industrial standardization efforts and how can efforts like DAML-S help make sure that new technologies can inform current efforts. Industry is working bottom-up, academia top-down, how do we make sure that these will meet in the middle?
- The business case for how the semantic web dovetails with web services is still not completely clear. If web services turn out to be primarily deployed at the protocol level, the need for semantic web technology is minimal. If, on the other hand, web services are to advertise, interact, and be supported by agent-based computing, then the need for approaches like DAML-S are manifest.
- The chicken/egg problem - without semantic markup, there's not a lot of motivation for the industrial base to pay attention to the semantic web. Without industry investment/support, the W3C and others have trouble developing standards and getting sources marked up. Current government funding helps to jump start this level, but the semantic web community needs to figure out how to both publicize these efforts and increase the dissemination of this technology.
Participants in this session were able to see that the semantic web is more than simply some sort of academic foolishness or rewarmed AI vision. The applications showed real technology and tools are being built in the Semantic web community, and that there is a lot of interest in these technologies on the part of industry and government. The web services track showed one area where there is tremendous industrial interest and where semantic web technology could be an important part of the work.