background image
and exhibitions that not only display objects and
simple descriptions (drawn from metadata), but also
allow for understanding relationships between objects
(created by semantically interrelated metadata).The
Semantic Web community promises to assist in
achieving this goal, but the challenge for the herit-
age institutions would be to first implement the
necessary data infrastructure.
The challenge for the Semantic Web expert
round table was, or at least the DigiCULT Secretariat
thought it was, not to run into a debate between
`theory' and `practice'. In other words, between what
academic Semantic Web scholars and what practi-
tioners from heritage institutions think needs to be
accomplished, what is feasible and affordable, and
where to concentrate efforts. For the discussion,
XML seemed to provide a good starting point.
XML, on the one hand, is increasingly considered by
heritage institutions as a key standard for publishing
metadata on the Web; on the other hand, it is a major
building block for the Semantic Web. It proved
different, in a positive sense. In the discussion, wide
use of XML was taken for granted, while the key
area of interest that surfaced and was seen to be
most fruitful to explore was... ontologies.
Setting the context for this Issue, the position
paper looks into the requirements for achieving the
goals of the Semantic Web, and assesses whether the
available technologies will be able to deliver on what
the advocates of the Semantic Web envisage, as well
as whether the cultural heritage sector is in a position
to take substantial steps towards semantic interopera-
bility. It concludes with the argument that the sector
is more likely to be left behind, due in particular to
the fact that for the institutions the rewards for the
necessary investments are still too nebulous.
Janneke van Kersen from the Dutch Digital
Heritage Association, in her interview with the
DigiCULT Journalist, suggests that, despite the
cloudy Semantic Web horizon, there are medium-
term benefits to be gained for heritage institutions
in taking steps towards the vision. And she states that
it is up to associations like hers, together with larger
institutions, to take the lead in this, prove that pro-
posed solutions work, and support smaller institutions
in taking advantage of them. On the other hand,
Nicola Guarino, in his interview, believes that
reaching the `real' Semantic Web lies in taking
`the fundamental route' of implementing generic
ontologies, based on linguistics and logics, within
the Semantic Web fabric. He also claims that even
incremental progress along this path can have
remarkable pay-offs.
Michael Steemson's summary of the Darm-
stadt Forum illustrates that the Semantic Web topic
resembles a labyrinth, with currently no definite
map or Ariadne's Thread at hand. Building on the
many technologies the Forum participants mentioned
as some of the labyrinth's angles, we have added to
the summary a list of resources related to these
In an effort to raise the veil of mystery surround-
ing the Semantic Web, this issue includes an example
from the sector on the implementation of semantic
interoperability of metadata, combined with a primer
that explains core building blocks such as XML,
RDF and ontologies.While a detailed primer of, for
example, RDF would alone exhaust the limits of this
, the goal here is to deliver an `all-inclusive'
primer within the space permitted, with all the
inevitable limitations this entails.The primer attempts
to provide a general understanding of the Semantic
Web architecture, without obliging the reader to
wander through the long and perplexing corridors
of language specifications.
Finally, we want to thank the Koninklijke
Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands,
for their kind permission to use selected images from
their collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts.
We hope you will appreciate the little narratives they
represent within the overall fabric of this DigiCULT
Thematic Issue.
cf. F. Manola, E. Miller:
RDF Primer (W3C Working
Draft, 23 January 2003),
See their online collection
of such images at:
manuscripts/, which offers
advanced search and
presentation features.