The Information Workbench Interacting with the Web of Data Peter Haase1 , Andreas Eberhart1 , Sebastian Godelet1 , Tobias Math¨aß1 , Thanh Tran2 , G¨ unter Ladwig2 , Andreas Wagner2 1 fluid Operations GmbH, Walldorf, Germany {peter.haase, andreas.eberhart, sebastian.godelet, tobias.mathaess} 2 Institute AIFB, University of Karlsruhe, Germany {gla,dtr,awa}

Abstract. We present the Information Workbench, an application for interacting with the Web of data. The Information Workbench manages large amounts of structured and unstructured information, which may be imported and integrated from existing sources, but also allows end users to annotate, complete and update information in a collaborative way. New paradigms for accessing information include hybrid search across the structured and unstructured data, keyword search combined with facetted search, as well as semantic query completion and interpretation, which assists the user in expressing complex information needs by an automated translation of keyword queries into hybrid queries. A Living UI based on widgets for the interaction with the data enables a homogeneous, seamless, continuous and personal experience. In our demonstrator system, users can explore, query and enrich information from the English Wikipedia augmented with structured data from the Open Linked Data Initiative including DBpedia and other sources.



In recent years, we have observed a tremendous success of the paradigms of the Web 2.0 in Web applications. The Web has developed from a platform in which information is published by few providers to an interactive and collaborative medium for producing, consuming and sharing information. As the most prominent example, Wikipedia has grown to one of the central knowledge sources. At the same time, the amount of structured data available on the (Semantic) Web has been increasing rapidly. Currently, there are billions of triples published and connected in web data sources of different domains. The benefits of this linked data are obvious (at least to our community), but there are still very few applications that actually make use of it. In particular, the potential of applications complementing the Web of data with the characteristics of the Web 2.0 – as promoted e.g. in [1] – has been largely unrealized: Existing applications are mainly limited to generic linked data browsers, they typically assume that the data is published by data providers – and thus read only – as apposed to user generated content. In other words, the means for the interaction with the Web of data are still in its 1.0 state.

The Information Workbench provides the means to fill this gap – as an infrastructure for building applications for the interaction with the Web of data, combining Web 2.0 features such as collaboration with those of semantic technologies. The key features of the Information Workbench include: – the ability to manage large amounts of structured and unstructured content, which may be imported and integrated from existing sources, but also may be generated by end users, who can annotate, complete and update the content, – new paradigms for accessing information, including hybrid search across the structured and unstructured data, keyword search combined with facetted search, and semantic query completion and interpretation, automatically translating keywords into hybrid queries corresponding to the user intent, – a Living UI to enable a homogeneous, seamless and personal experience, despite heterogeneous and dynamic data. Knowing what, when, and where to show is realized through an automated and customizable selection of widgets, which implement various paradigms for interacting with the data. The technology of the Information Workbench is generic in the sense that it is independent of particular domain or data set, or application. In fact, the strength lies in the ease of building concrete applications. To demonstrate this, we have setup an instance of the Information Workbench to interact with a Semantic Wikipedia, publicly accessible at To bootstrap the system, we have taken the English Wikipedia and enriched it with structured data from the Open Linked Data Initiative, including the DBpedia [2] data set. While the data in the demonstrator spans many domains (in fact it covers a large fraction of the world knowledge) and thus potential applications are just as manifold, we further illustrate the benefits in a small application scenario.



Sebastian is a hobby astronomer, who is familiar with using computers, experienced in using Web 2.0 style wikis and forum software for managing pictures and observation reports. Especially in the domain of astronomy, information is abundant. For example, Wikipedia contains vast amounts of knowledge about astronomy. Most of this knowledge is available in unstructured form, but increasingly, structured data is published. As one example, DBpedia already contains some structured knowledge about astronomic entities extracted from Wikipedia. Using the Information Workbench, Sebastian is able to access and interact with the data aggregated from the various available sources. The data is presented in a resource-centric way, with a single page per resource. One such page may be that of the solar system (c.f. Figure 1). For displaying the Information, the application automatically selects appropriate widgets based on the data available. For example, cosmic objects might be associated with coordinates. Based on them, these objects are displayed using Google Sky. At the same time, Sebastian would like to personalize the interface to his preferences: Sebastian may want to have a Twitter feed included that displays live news about a particular resource, while some other user may prefer to see videos associated with that resource. An important means of interacting for Sebastian is the ability to enrich the existing data, in the form of photographs, text, and also, more structured data.

Fig. 1. Screenshot of the Demonstrator

In a simple case, he may want to annotate the unstructured information within the Wikipedia. Simple annotations such as making the relationship between two entities explicit (e.g. stating [[location::Solar System]] for a planet) lead to immediate benefits: Promptly, Sebastian will be able to perform an adhoc structured query, e.g. asking for the mass and planets in the solar system arranged in the order of the distance from the sun. The Information Workbench will assist in formulating complex information needs by automatically translating the query from keywords into structured queries and making suggestions for completing and refining the query. Results are displayed using an appropriate visualization, e.g. in the form a bar diagram type. Figure 1 shows a screenshot the Information Workbench in our scenario. The screen shows the page of the solar system, integrating information from the original Wikipedia page, the DBpedia data set, various external sources and the annotations added by Sebastian. The upper left widget shows a wiki-based interface to the resource, the widget below shows the associated structured as a graph. On the right side, we see external content in the form of video from YouTube and a Twitter news feed. The upper right widget shows the results of a structured query associated with the page, displaying the density of the planets in the solar system.


The Information Workbench

In this section we briefly present the underlying conceptual architecture of the Information Workbench (c.f. Figure 2).

Fig. 2. Conceptual Architecture of the Information Workbench

The Information Workbench is realized as a Web application, with an AJAXbased Web frontend and a pure Java backend. At the core of the Information Workbench is a Semantic Data Store for the management of structured and unstructured data. The structured data is stored in an RDF triple store, accessed via the Sesame API. (In the demonstrator system, we use BigOWLIM as implementation of the repository.) Unstructured information (e.g. wiki pages, documents) are stored in a custom content management system with support for managing revisions. Further we create various indexes over the unstructured and structured data needed for the effective information access and search. External data sources - from the open Web or internal sources - can be directly imported in standard formats, or accessed live through data providers that translate other formats into RDF. Additionally, domain knowledge in the form of ontologies (RDFS or OWL) may also be imported. The ontologies are used to construct templates for knowledge acquisition, but also for query answering. On top of the Semantic Data Store, we realize the components for data integration, search, presentation and interaction. In the following subsections we further detail selected aspects of these components. 3.1

Management of Structured and Unstructured Data

In the Information Workbench, every resource can have structured and unstructured data associated with it, both are treated as a first-class citizen in the repository. Also in the frontend, the information is presented in this resource centric way: Every resource in the repository corresponds to a page in the UI,

covering both the unstructured and the structured information in the form of the associated incoming and outgoing links from that node in the resource graph. Every resource has a wiki page associated with it. Within the wiki, we support the syntax of Semantic MediaWiki. The structured data from the semantic annotations in the wiki pages is automatically extracted to the triple store. The seamless management of structured and unstructured information is useful for bridging in both directions: In some scenarios, one may start out with unstructured information (e.g. from Wikipedia) and incrementally add structured data. In other cases, one may initially import only structured data, which may then be augmented by the users with semi- or unstructured annotations. An important aspect in dealing with multiple data sources and users is the problem of change management and provenance. Changes are tracked on a fine granular level: For the unstructured information, the level of granularity is that of a revision. For the structured information, it is the set of triples that has been updated (added or removed) in an operation. To associate meta-information about changes, we make use of named graphs (called contexts in Sesame). As part of the context we store information about the data source and the user performing the change, time of change, comments, etc. This makes it possible to track the source of every piece of information, but also to reconstruct the state of the database at any given time. 3.2

Hybrid Semantic Search

For searching and querying information, we provide a wide range of novel features enabling different style of interactions. Hybrid Search constitutes the core concept for search. While keyword search is a popular paradigm for searching documents, a formal query language (such as SPARQL) is typically used to retrieve structured data. Clearly, keyword search is a popular and easy to use search paradigm while formal query languages provide the expressive power to specify more complex information need. Through the combination of these two paradigms, hybrid search leverages their strengths. Using the hybrid search feature of our system, the user can specify his information need in terms of keywords, structured queries (a graph pattern) or a combination of them two. The term ”hybrid” here refers not only to the query but also the resources. We address information needs that span both the structured and unstructured information. Using one single hybrid query, the user can search for both these types of information in an integrated way. Keyword Search combined with Facetted Search is one particular implementation of hybrid search. Basically, a facet represents a structure query (component), i.e. a triple pattern. Instead of entering a hybrid query in a manual way, this feature enables an iterative process where the user can specify the information need by means of entering keywords and selecting facets suggested by the system. It can be used to explore and to interact with the available resources and during this process, iteratively construct the hybrid query. For instance, the user might start with some keywords, which result in a list of matching results (i.e. those with text or textual attributes matching the keywords). The relevant facets that can be used to manipulate this result set is computed, and presented to the user. By adding facets to or removing facets from the current query, the

user can manipulate and refine the presented results. In fact, the current result set can be manipulated at anytime using either keywords or operations on facets. Advanced Keyword Search based on Semantic Query Completion and Interpretation is another key concept that promote the use of keywords. Recognizing that keyword search is convenient but limited in expressiveness, we provide search features that can suggest meaningful completions and interpretations for keywords entered by the user, thereby assist the user in constructing complex hybrid queries. In particular, the system suggests entity or classes of entities that might match the intended meaning of a given keyword. When several keywords have been entered, the system automatically computes the queries (i.e. the interpretations of the keywords) which likely correspond to the user intent. In combination, these concepts are a powerful yet intuitive means to search and interact with structured and unstructured information in unified way. 3.3

Living UI

We follow the vision of a Living UI that configures itself to automatically display the information most relevant to the user, dynamically adjusts to changing data, and still allows single users to customize according to their preferences. The UI of the Information Workbench is based on the idea of widgets, which implement various paradigms of interaction with the data, including aspects of visualization, browsing, editing, annotation, but also realizing mashups with information from external sources. Some widgets may be generic in nature, others may be very specific to particular types of information. In the Information Workbench, we provide a range of pre-configured widgets for the following purposes: – – – – –

Knowledge acquisition and annotation via forms and a Semantic Wiki, Visualization of the structured information in the form of graphs and tables, Display of multimedia objects, e.g. for displaying images, videos, audio, etc., Connections to social platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, Mashups with external information sources.

An important question obviously is how to select an appropriate set of widgets for a particular piece of information, without a-priori knowledge about the schema and structure of the data. Here we follow a combination of an automated selection of widgets by the system with the option for the user to personalize and customize widgets to his own needs and preferences. Automated widget selection The automated selection follows a data-driven approach, where the properties of a resource are matched against the available of widgets. The capabilities of the widgets are declaratively described in terms of RDF properties they operate on. The automated selection computes an optimal configuration, where the optimization function maximizes the coverage of information, but minimizes the redundancy of information displayed across the widgets. Also, the interface is dynamic in the sense that it automatically adapts to changes, i.e. when new data or new widgets become available. The details of the procedure are described in [4]. Customization and personalization When logged in, users can personalize the appearance of the UI by adding and removing widgets according to their preferences. Here, the user can associate widgets either with a particular resource or with a particular type (e.g. displaying places on Google maps, etc.)


Related Work

Recently, many applications provide solutions for making Linked Open Data and Semantic Web data more accessible, introducing novel paradigms for search, browsing and visual navigation. Prominent examples are Tabulator1 , SIG.MA 2 , Visinav3 , the DBpedia Navigator4 , DBpedia Faceted Browser 5 and Semaplorer6 . Hermes [5], our submission to last year’s Billion Triple Challenge also falls into this category. It enables search and browsing heterogeneous Billion Triple data sets. As opposed to the other mentioned systems which rely either on keyword search or facetted search only, Hermes provides a combination of these two paradigms. Also, it extends the standard keyword search – typically supported to retrieve entities only (e.g. SIG.MA, Watson7 ) – to a powerful paradigm that can be used to obtain more complex results (graph-pattern). In this work, we further advance the state of the art to support hybrid search, addressing complex information needs that span over both unstructured and structured data. More importantly, these existing applications focus on the consumption of information, without providing means to produce, annotate, or share data by the end user. Our system enables the integrated management of structured and unstructured user-generated Content. Semantic Wikis – most notably Semantic MediaWiki [3] – are a popular tool for the collaborative creation of semantically annotated content. But typically, Semantic Wikis focus more an augmenting unstructured information with structured annotations, whereas in our system the structured data is considered an equal first-class citizen; a widget for accessing the content through a Semantic Wiki is just of out of many for the interaction with the data. The concept of widgets to create the experience of a Living UI in interacting with (Semantic) Web data has also become popular in recent years. For example Paggr8 , the winner of last year’s Semantic Web Challenge, is an application for building interactive data portals using widgets that can easily be scripted using SPARQL. The Information Workbench provides similar functionalities, but also widgets that allow for additional types of interaction. Summarizing, the Information Workbench introduces novel concepts for different aspects of interacting with Semantic Web data, including integrated hybrid resource management, intuitive yet expressive hybrid search, and a living UI. While there exist systems that address some particular aspects, we believe it is the first end-to-end solution that supports the full process from producing to accessing, visualizing and interacting with information, while seamlessly integrating structured and unstructured information. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8



We have presented the Information Workbench, an application for the interaction with the Web of Data. It enables a seamless management of unstructured and structured data from different sources. The Information Workbench makes it easy to add structure and semantics to initially unstructured data, but also annotate, augment and update data from structured sources. At the same time, it provides the collaboration capabilities that have made the Web 2.0 successful. The information can be queried using novel paradigms, combining expressive hybrid search, facetted search with techniques for query interpretation and completions. Finally, the widget-based UI allows to interact with the data, supporting various paradigms for browsing, visualizing, annotating, etc. In this paper, we have illustrated the application only with one small scenario - however, possible applications are as broad as the Web of data itself. In our experience when building the demonstrator using open Web data, we were delighted to see how effectively applications can be built with existing data, how well the techniques apply across domains, and how easily they can be customized to specific domains and data sources. Clearly, much of the data available today is still of imperfect quality (noisy, incomplete, etc.), the same holds for the links across sources. Here, a combination of publishing data on the web with the concept of user feedback and Web 2.0-style collaboration seems promising. In the near future, we intend to make the Information Workbench available as Open Source. Additionally, we plan to offer the Information Workbench as a service in the cloud. As one step in this direction, we already have enabled the Information Workbench to run on Google’s Appengine. With such an offering, users will be able to to setup own instances of the Information Workbench as a virtual appliance, based on which custom applications can easily be built. Acknowledgments We would like to thank the people that have in various ways contributed to the development of the Information Workbench, in particular Tobias Sorn, Claudiu Dragulin and Luis Roa.

References 1. Anupriya Ankolekar, Markus Kr¨ otzsch, Thanh Tran, and Denny Vrandecic. The two cultures: Mashing up web 2.0 and the semantic web. J. Web Sem., 6(1):70–75, 2008. 2. Christian Bizer, Jens Lehmann, Georgi Kobilarov, S¨ oren Auer, Christian Becker, Richard Cyganiak, and Sebastian Hellmann. Dbpedia - a crystallization point for the web of data. J. of Web Semantics, July 2009. 3. Markus Kr¨ otzsch, Denny Vrandecic, and Max V¨ olkel. Semantic mediawiki. In Isabel F. Cruz, Stefan Decker, Dean Allemang, Chris Preist, Daniel Schwabe, Peter Mika, Michael Uschold, and Lora Aroyo, editors, International Semantic Web Conference, volume 4273 of LNCS, pages 935–942. Springer, 2006. 4. Daniel Kurtsiefer. Information filtering using an automated widget selection algorithm. Master’s thesis, International University Bruchsal, Germany, 2009. 5. Thanh Tran, Haofen Wang, and Peter Haase. Hermes: Data web search on a payas-you-go integration infrastructure. J. Web Sem., Special Issue: The Web of Data, 2009.

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