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< Contents ERCIM News No. 51, October 2002

Semantic Web Technologies in Europe's IST Programme 1998 - 2002

by Hans-Georg Stork

The European Commission supports a broad range of research and development activities related to the Semantic Web. This support is expected to continue in the forthcoming 6th Framework Programme.

The European Commission's Infor-mation Society Technologies (IST) Programme was designed in 1997-1998 as part of the 5th Framework Programme for R&D in Europe, covering the period 1998 - 2002. One of its Key Action III ('Multimedia Content and Tools') modules was entitled 'Information access, filtering, analysis and handling' (IAF for short). Its objectives were to support the development of "...advanced technologies for the management of information content to empower the user to select, receive and manipulate ... only the information required when faced with an ever increasing range of heterogeneous sources." These technologies should lead to "... improvements in the key functionalities of large-scale multimedia asset management systems (including the evolution of the World Wide Web) to support the cost-effective delivery of information services and their usage." (Quoted from

Only a few months before the first IST Call was launched in early 1999, Tim Berners-Lee had published his informal 'Semantic Web Road Map' note on the W3C website, outlining possible future directions for the evolution of the World Wide Web. These ideas, partly based on previous content and resource description activities, had met with growing enthusiasm of researchers and developers worldwide, both in academia and in industry. They provided a new vision for integrating efforts that had been ongoing for some time in many R&D communities, involving specialists in various computer science disciplines. These efforts were aimed at capturing the semantics of digital content of all sorts, and at devising ways of acting sensibly upon the formal knowledge representations thus gained.

Picking up on this vision the European Commission dedicated a specific action line of its IST Work Programme 2001 to 'Semantic Web Technologies' (Action Line III.4.1), thereby underlining the importance (in terms of research challenges and expected impact) of 'semantics issues' for achieving the declared goals of the IAF module of IST.

It offered four broad interrelated R&D tracks as an orientation for submitting project proposals:

  • creating a usable formal framework in terms of formal methods, models, languages and corresponding tools for semantically sound machine-processable resource description
  • fleshing out the formal skeletons by developing and applying techniques for knowledge discovery (in databases and text repositories), ontology learning, multimedia content analysis, content-based indexing, etc
  • acting in a semantically rich environment, performing resource and service discovery, complex transactions, semantic search and retrieval, filtering and profiling, supporting collaborative filtering and knowledge sharing, etc
  • making it understandable to people through device-dependent information visualisation, semantics-based and context-sensitive navigation and browsing, semantics-based dialogue management, etc.

This agenda provided some continuity with respect to previous Key Action III activities (notably on 'media representation and access' and digital libraries) and activities supported by other IST departments (for instance under action line 'Methods and tools for intelligence and knowledge sharing' of Key Action IV - Essential Technologies and Infrastruc-tures, or under the Open Domain of FET - Future and Emerging Technologies).

But it also provided a sharper focus on the problems of creating and using knowledge representations, in the context of large-scale distributed systems, such as the World Wide Web.

This focus was largely retained in Work Programme 2002 as part of Key Action III's 'Preparing for future research activities' action line (AL III.5.2). Moreover, Work Programme 2002, in one of its 'Cross Programme Activities (CPA)', took account of a new trend that has surfaced over the last couple of years: the application of Grid technologies to "knowledge discovery in ... large distributed datasets, using cognitive techniques, data mining, machine learning, ontology engineering, information visualisation, intelligent agents... (quoted from WP2002, CPA9)", all more or less directly pertinent to the Semantic Web vision.

Calls for submission of proposals to these action lines were published in July (AL III.4.1) and November (AL III.5.2 & CPA9) 2001, respectively (Calls 7 and 8). Both calls met with considerable interest in relevant R&D communities across Europe and drew altogether nearly one hundred submissions involving several hundred participating organisations. They resulted in a significant growth (by 17 projects) of a portfolio of projects that are all poised to contribute in one way or another, to making the Semantic Web a reality (see the references in the box, including a few earlier and concurrent projects in Key Actions II, IV and in FET).

Some IST Projects on Semantics in Distributed Systems
(Semantic Web Technologies')

While at the time of writing the new projects have only just commenced, some of the older ones have already produced noteworthy results. It may suffice to mention project On-To-Knowledge (, which has been one of the birthing grounds of OWL, the proposed new Web ontology language, currently under discussion at the W3C.

Moreover, in recognition of the central role ontologies are likely to play in building the 'Semantic Web', the European Commission, through its IST Programme, supports the 'Thematic Network' OntoWeb, a platform for fostering collaboration between industry and academia, on creating a 'semantic infrastructure' for applications in many different areas (e-business, Web services, multimedia asset management, community webs, etc). Through OntoWeb, European researchers and practitioners also have an opportunity to make more targeted contributions to international standardisation activities and to the W3C process.

It is expected that EU support of Semantic-Web-related R&D will continue under the forthcoming 6th Framework Programme within the broader context of 'Knowledge Technologies', as part of the 'Priority Thematic Area' IST - Information Society Technologies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily engage the European Commission.


Please contact:
Hans-Georg Stork
European Commission,
DG Information Society