An open framework for collaborative distributed information management
G. Hillc, and
aDepartment of Electronics and Computer Science,
University of Southampton, U.K.
bDepartment of Informatics,
University of Athens, Athens, Greece
cMulticosm Ltd, Southampton, U.K.
dParallel Applications Centre,
The MEMOIR project supports researchers working with a vast
quantity of distributed information, by assisting them in finding both
relevant documents and researchers with related interests. It is an open
architecture based on the existing Web infrastructure. Key to the architecture
is the use of proxies: to support message routing for dynamic reconfiguration
and extension of the system, to collect information about the trail of
documents that a user visits, and to insert links on-the-fly. In this paper
we present the MEMOIR framework and its rationale, and discuss early experiences
with the system.
Trails; Agents; Open system
1. The open architecture of MEMOIR
Effective access to documents and effective collaboration between researchers
can be crucial to the competitiveness of large companies. MEMOIR, which
stands for Managing Enterprise-scale Multimedia
using an Open Framework for Information Re-use,
addresses this problem by providing the user with extra assistance in these
tasks in return for minimal extra effort by the user. In order to achieve
the goal of supporting collaboration amongst users MEMOIR uses open hypermedia
link services, trail bases and software agents that assist the user in
the management of their information.
The MEMOIR architecture consists of a set of components that talk to
each other using HTTP extended by additional tag/value pairs that express
the semantics of MEMOIR messages. The main components are a message router,
an interface manager that serves as a proxy as well as a link service, the
object oriented database system ITASCA and an agent server.
The key component is the message router which acts as a hub
with which other system services register. Its design is based on the Microcosm
filter model (Hill et al., 1993). Any
component makes its services available by registering details of its services
with the message router which in turn can route particular requests of
other components to the newly registered one. The model of servicing a
component allows the system to be dynamically tailored to specific needs.
Standard Java enabled Web browsers serve as user interface to the MEMOIR
system in order to minimise installation and maintenance overhead. The
only configuration necessary is to set the so-called interface manager
as a proxy server and to connect once to it in order to log in. It is via
the interface manager that users view the Web, document management systems
and also linkbases. Thus, existing data can be re-used and is not stored
within the system (although the meta data such as a document's keywords
A dedicated agent server manages a set of software agents (Pikrakis
et al., 1998) and provides different agent services that are essentially
responsible for data mining and resource discovery tasks such as searching
the Web. Users can select services such as finding similar persons based
on trail information; they can launch keyword extractions of documents
they have visited; or retrieve information which other users' trails contain
2. Collaboration supported by trails, links and agents
The MEMOIR architecture is an evolution of the Distributed Link Service
(DLS) (Carr et al., 1995). While
the DLS, like other open hypermedia systems, treats hypermedia links as
first class objects, MEMOIR promotes another kind of object: the trail
(Bush, 1945; , Nicol
et al., 1995). A user's trail is the set of actions on documents that
they have visited (such as opening the document) in pursuing a certain
task. By matching trails, we match users. MEMOIR lets the user ask questions
such as "who else has read this document?" and "what else should I read?".
Software agents answer these questions to the user: they do so mainly by
mining trail information, by doing automatic keyword extraction and also
by maintaining different user profiles. Therefore, answers will depend
on the selected profile, e.g., similarity scores of documents or the users'
personal profile. At this stage simple profiles have been created to capture
the nature of the user's work role, e.g. sales manager or researcher.
3. Summary and conclusion
Distributed information systems can be large and complex: information is
difficult to find, leading to duplication of effort where sharing
would be more cost effective. MEMOIR provides a simple, open solution using
existing Web infrastructure and unlike other recommender systems, recommends
people as well as documents. MEMOIR treats trails as first class objects
which can be created, stored and manipulated by the components of the system,
While MEMOIR focuses on two particular industries the pharmaceutical
and chemical industries for the trials, we believe the approach to be
generic: for example, we are also applying it to historical research using
major historical archives including Wellington, Mountbatten and Churchill,
to audio archives, virtual museums, virtual art galleries and hybrid libraries,
as well as the adminstrative system of the ECS Department at Southampton.
We would like to acknowledge the contribution of all the members of the
MEMOIR team. The project is supported by the European Union's ESPRIT programme
(No. 22153). The work of Sigi Reich has been supported by the Austrian
Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF, grant No.
J1507-INF). We would also like to acknowledge the the support by the EPSRC
project No. GR/K73060.
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