Friday, April 01, 2005

Networking the Networks with the Help of a FOAF..?

One of the things I'm involved with that takes up more time than it probably should is RoboFesta-UK, an open network established to promote educational robotics for all ages and abilities and to promote the use of robotics related activities for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) engagement. The motto of RoboFesta-UK, and the theme of the network's 2nd Annual Open Meeting in November 2002, is Networking the Networks. As well as administering RoboFesta-UK, the OU Robotics Outreach Group leads the Creative Robotics Research Network. This network is funded by the EPSRC, one of the UK's research councils, and is one of several research networks they fund in the UK.

One of the offerings that has generated some interest for the CRRN is the members' website carousel. Now, I happen to know that some members of the CRRN are members of other EPSRC robotics research networks. But in my experience, our shared interest networks do not necessarily work together as well as they should. Disseminating information between networks, for example, is often a hit or miss affair.

What would be useful, I think, would be to find a way to facilitate inter-netorking through groups or individuals are members of several newtorks. And I wonder of some sort of cut down version of the Friend of a Friend (FOAF) project may be the way to go? Networking the Networks (NTN), perhaps?

So - where to start? The first step, I think, would be to reuse FOAF definitions where possible, but only insofar as is necessary - the NTN specification should start off as the smallest, yet still useful, subset of FOAF classes as possible.

So what's in a network? A loose affiliation of members? A smattering of projects? What NTN needs to capture, I think, are: 1) explicit affiliations of members to networks; 2) associations of projects with both networks and members. Some networks may spawn SIGs, or committees, which may also be worth representing - but perhaps these are just networks of their own, or at the the very least, subnetworks?

Quickly browsing the FOAF Vocabulary Specification, the following classes seem like they may be useful elements of NTN:

I. Group: "a collection of individual agents...This concept is intentionally quite broad, covering informal and ad-hoc groups, long-lived communities, organizational groups within a workplace, etc."

II. Project

III. Member: "a member of a Group".

Contact information for each class would be useful, as would funding information for Projects and Groups. The idea is not to recreate the complexity - and richer semantics - of FOAF. Simplicity is a key - with just enough information provided to allow member info records to stick together...

And what would the purpose of having this information autodiscovered from network members pages be? I'm working on that... tags:


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