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Usability and the Semantic Web

By Anthony Jameson (2006)

In Y. Sure & J. B. Domingue (Eds.), The semantic web: Research and applications: proceedings of the third european semantic web conference, ESWC 2006 (p. 3). Berlin: Springer. Abstract of a keynote address. Slides available from author’s web homepage.


The presentation slides (see the link below) are much more detailed than the brief abstract in the proceedings volume. The slides contain a good deal of supplementary text that make the slides reasonably self-contained, including the following summary:

  • Introduction

    Many innovative technologies aim to enhance a user’s interaction with a system in some respects; but they typically raise usability challenges which, if not dealt with, may outweigh the intended benefits

    Research on semantic web technologies has so far focused mostly on the technology, but the past 3 years have seen an increase in interest in interaction design and evaluation

    The main part of this talk discusses three of the key usability challenges, approaches that have been taken to them, and issues that remain open

  • Three general challenges
    1. Reducing effort and complexity in querying and search

      In the ideal case, users could obtain information via semantic methods by straightforwardly characterizing their information need in terms of elements of the ontology(ies) used in the system

      In most cases, the ontologies (and other information sources) are too large, complex, and otherwise unsuited for end-user inspection

      Designers of query interfaces for the semantic web have been creative and often successful in devising ways of allowing users to benefit from the existence of an ontology without confronting them with its complexity

      A goal related to that of reducing effort is the goal of ensuring adequate expected benefit, which can be relatively difficult with semantically based interfaces; two strategies are discussed briefly

    2. Conveying adequate mental models

      The same design solutions that reduce effort and complexity in querying can also make the resulting behavior of the system difficult to understand and predict, as is illustrated here by a discussion of an intermediate SmartWeb prototype

      Research and experience in human-computer interaction on mental models yields a number of results and ideas about when and why it is important for a user to have at least some vague understanding of how a system works internally and about ways of conveying an appropriate mental model

    3. Providing adequate motivation for content provision

      Many semantic web application scenarios presuppose that some users will invest effort in providing or enhancing content (e.g., by annotating web pages)

      Theory and experience from several fields have yielded a number of ideas about the conditions under which users may be motivated to do such work

  • The roles of users in semantic web research and development

    In more mature fields that involve novel forms of human-computer interaction, it is often hard to publish a paper concerning a new interactive system unless it includes some empirical evidence that the novel aspects of the system are well accepted by users

    By contrast, empirical research with users is found only sporadically (though increasingly) in the semantic web field

    Several apparent reasons are discussed

    Finally, some general hints about how to involve users effectively in research on semantic web technologies are given, with emphasis on the diversity of roles that users can play and the proven effectiveness of interdisciplinary teams in designing useful and usable systems


Paper:  [PDF File]

Slides:  [PDF File]

BibTeX entry

  year = {2006},
  author = {{Jameson}, Anthony},
  editor = {{Sure}, York and
            {Domingue}, John B.},
  title = {Usability and the Semantic Web},
  booktitle = {{{T}he} Semantic Web: Research and Applications: Proceedings of the Third European
    Semantic Web Conference, {ESWC} 2006},
  address = {Berlin},
  publisher = {Springer},
  pages = {3},
  note = {Abstract of a keynote address. Slides available from author’s web homepage}}