Semantic Desktop

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About the Semantic Desktop[edit]

The Internet, electronic mail, and the Web have revolutionized the way we communicate and collaborate - their mass adoption is one of the major technological success stories of the 20th century. We all are now much more connected, and in turn face new resulting problems: information overload caused by insufficient support for information organization and collaboration. For example, sending a single file to a mailing list multiplies the cognitive processing effort of filtering and organizing this file times the number of recipients - leading to more and more of peoples' time going into information filtering and information management activities. There is a need for smarter and more fine-grained computer support for personal and networked information that has to blend the boundaries between personal and group data, while simultaneously safeguarding privacy and establishing and deploying trust among collaborators.

The Semantic Web holds promises for information organization and selective access, providing standards means for formulating and distributing metadata and Ontologies.

Still, we miss a wide use of Semantic Web technologies on personal computers. The use of ontologies, metadata annotations, and semantic web protocols on desktop computers will allow the integration of desktop applications and the web, enabling a much more focused and integrated personal information management as well as focused information distribution and collaboration on the Web beyond sending emails. The vision of the Semantic Desktop for personal information management and collaboration has been around for a long time: visionaries like Vanevar Bush and Doug Engelbart have formulated and partially realized these ideas. However, for the largest part their ideas remained a vision for far too long since the foundational technologies necessary to render their ideas into reality were not yet invented - these ideas were proposing jet planes, where the rest of the world had just invented the parts to build a bicycle. However, recently the computer science community has developed the means to make this vision a reality:

  • The Semantic Web effort ( provides standards and technologies for the definition and exchange of metadata and ontologies.
  • Open-source software (like OpenOffice) and especially the Linux operating system make it possible to reuse and enhance existing robust systems to create personal information management (PIM) systems and collaborative infrastructures, based on semantic web principles and running on personal computers.
  • Collaboration, acquisition and dissemination infrastructures like Wikis and Blogs are providing the foundation for joint collaborative knowledge creation and are essentially simplified knowledge acquisition tools.
  • Social Software maps the social connections between different people into the technical infrastructure. Online Social Networking enables collaboration relationships as first class citizens, and allows exploiting these relationships for automated information distribution and classification.
  • P2P and Grid computing, especially in combination with the Semantic Web field, develops technology to interconnect large communities without centralized infrastructures for data and computation sharing, which is necessary to build heterogeneous, multi-organizational collaboration networks.

The application of the mentioned technologies, especially in combination with the Semantic Web, to the desktop computer in order to improve personal information management and collaboration is the main topic of this workshop. Several systems have been created already to explore this field, e.g., the Haystack system at MIT, the Gnowsis system at DFKI, D-BIN by SEMEDIA, OpenIris by SRI, or the Chandler system by the OSA foundation.

Each of these systems only address some parts of the picture. Furthermore we are in danger of resulting in many fragmented efforts, each of which will not reach critical mass and thus will not be able to penetrate the user space wide enough to result in mass adoption.

NEPOMUK - The Social Semantic Desktop[edit]

Human knowledge work mainly consists of the reception, interpretation and structuring of information, the explicit articulation of thoughts in suitable representations (like texts and pictures), and the sharing, exchange and discussion of such resources with other people. The way people proceed in this is heavily influenced by the tools they use: The personal workspace - and the personal computer in particular - support and reflect the individual ways of information processing, thought articulation, and knowledge sharing across social and organizational networks.

NEPOMUK intends to realize and deploy a comprehensive solution - methods, data structures, and a set of tools - for extending the personal computer into a collaborative environment, which improves the state of art in online collaboration and personal data management and augments the intellect of people by providing and organizing information created by single or group efforts. This solution is called the Social Semantic Desktop. This enhanced personal workspace (the Desktop) will be Semantic since it will give information a well defined meaning, making it processable by the computer. It will be Social since it will support the interconnection and exchange with other desktops and their users.

Desktop Aspect[edit]

To build the Semantic Desktop, NEPOMUK's objectives are to develop the methods, data structures and services necessary

  • to annotate and link arbitrary information on the local desktop, across different media types, file formats, and applications. Semantic web data structures and techniques will be applied and adapted to achieve this goal.
  • to articulate and visualize the user's ideas and transform them into semantic information. We will extend easy-to-use wiki technology and integrate it with annotation
  • to integrate content creation and processing with the users' way of structuring their work. Key approach will be the integration of agile process modelling concepts with the information generation and structuring.

Social Aspect[edit]

To cope with the interconnection and exchange with other desk- tops and their users, NEPOMUK's objectives are to develop

  • tools for social relation building and knowledge exchange which support knowledge sharing within social communities. These tools will provide semantically rich recommendations, which allow members of a community to not only exchange documents and other isolated information chunks, but all relevant information about their context and the participating community as well.
  • techniques for distributed search and storage of information, based on scalable extensions of the distributed hash table technology and p-grid infrastructures, which allow efficient search over distributed information resources and provide a shared knowledge pool within a community.

Community Uptake[edit]

The idea of the Social Semantic Desktop will reach its full potential only if it is adopted and applied by a large and active community of people. The build-up of this community is a central objective of the project which will be pursued right from the beginning. In detail, our objectives towards sufficient community uptake are

  • to realize the Social Semantic Desktop as an open framework architecture with clearly defined interfaces which are published and possibly submitted for standardization; this will allow external adopters to integrate their proprietary desktop tools into the comprehensive framework and offers ways for commercial support and extension activities;
  • to reach early dissemination of project results and to interact with the open-source developer community; this will allow for the gathering and inclusion of feedback and development contributions form interested third parties; and finally
  • to prove the benefits of the Social Semantic Desktop in representative application areas which will stipulate the interest of possible industrial users and service providers in uptaking the project results.

Main Results[edit]

Main visible results are:

  • the architecture and implemented middleware of the Social Semantic Desktop, published as open-source software and where relevant submitted to semantic web standardization processes
  • an active scientific and user community that adopts the results of NEPOMUK and continues to extend them to their needs,
  • a set of reference solutions in use at SAP, PRC, or Institut Pasteur, and a body of documented experience and methodological know-how gained in their application domains.

Mailing lists[edit]

Dissemination activities[edit]