ImeshTk: Subject Gateway Review plan

dan brickley <>
libby miller <>

Last updated: 2000-07-14

Status of This Document

This is an initial draft for comments and feedback within the IMeshTk project team.


The objective of the Subject Gateway Review is to ensure that the IMeshTk architectural and technical strategies are well-grounded in the documented needs and practical requirements of the internet cataloguing community as they stand now, and with a view to the next 2-3 years.

1.0 Description

The Subject Gateway Review work will be responsible for producing scope and prioritisation guidelines for the IMesh toolkit technical and architectural activities. Through informal interviews, targetted questions, consultation with the ROADS, Scout/Isaac and IMesh communities, the Subject Gateway Review will help evaluate relative priorities for the technical work undertaken during the course of the project.

By engaging with the practical deployment experience and development ambitions of the gateway community, the Subject Gateway Review should ensure the relevance and usefulness of the IMesh toolset and interface.

Since a formal definition of 'subject gateway' (or even 'internet catalogue') has proved elusive in the IMesh community, a qualitative rather than quantitative methodology will be adopted for the Review, which will be conducted with a special concern for two related themes: Scoping issues and new and emerging technologies.

It will consist of three principle sections:

2.0 Approach

The Subject Gateway Review will focus on a small number of gateways, selected from those participating in the IMesh community in such a way as to ensure a range of experiences (eg. long established vs new, ROADS vs non-ROADS etc). The Subject Gateway Review will complement the Technology Review by focussing on the documentation of the (already perceived or as-yet unarticulated) needs of the gateway services, and on connecting these needs and use cases to the technological solutions underway in the IMesh toolkit project and elsewhere.

3.0 Discussion: Issues and Themes

If the IMeskTk deliverables are to make a lasting contribution to the success of the Subject Gateway movement, the project will need to establish a practically-grounded understanding of the kinds of tools that are likely to be adopted by current and future gateways. Subject gateways have to deal with a fast-moving standards environment, evolving business models, and a constantly changing technology base. Even within the context of a single gateway, planning ahead (eg. in the 18 months+ timeframe) is a major challenge.

Therefore the Subject Gateway Review needs to take into account the current needs of the IMesh community, but also try to anticipate its future needs. For example, without consulting the gateway community it is not clear as to the grain of specificity appropriate for the IMesh toolkit machine-level interfaces, nor even whether existing interfaces (such as LDAP or Z39.50) may be appropriate for adoption as (for example) the IMesh toolkit search interface.

To achieve this understanding we will both initiate general discussion on the IMesh mailing list and talk to indivdual gateways in some depth. Part of this discussion will include possible future technologies and current Subject Gateway and non-Subject-Gateway-specific technologies. We will also research current and upcoming technologies and standards for discussion in these fora. In particular, the dramatic rise of W3C's XML in recent years has altered the standards landscape for metadata applications. The relationship between XML-based metadata systems, notably RDF and other traditions such as LDAP and Z39.50 is not yet clear. XML's popularity stems in large part from its cross-domain generality: XML representations of white pages data, bibliographic metadata, structured documents etc can (to some extent) exploit common tools and software components.

One issue that the Subject Gateway Review will need to address is the distinction between data-format based interfaces and API/protocol interfaces. The latter addresses the possibility of tools such as on-the-fly adaptors that translate (say) Z39.50 queries into LDAP queries (or vice-versa), while the former addresses a need for common data formats / information models for data exchange. The Subject Gateway Review will need to draw (tentative) conclusions about the relative merits of each approach. While on-the-fly mapping of query protocols into a common IMeshTk-endorsed metadata query protocol is appealing (since it suggests a strategy in which arbitrary protocols might be plugged into a common framework), the potential complexity of such an approach requires us to carefully consider simpler alternatives.

The Subject Gateway Review will be conducted with particular concern for better understanding such tradeoffs. For example, which strategies are gateways most likely to deploy? Do gateway managers prefer query-time protocol mapping to scenarios in which they 'batch convert' (given some standard data format, eg. some flavour of qualified Dublin Core) records to make them available in multiple search protocols? It would be useful to have answers (even partial, tentative...) before committing substantial effort to software development.

4.0 Task Breakdown

The following tasks constitute the IMeshTk Subject Gateway Review plan.

4.1 Methodology Overview and Discussion Paper

Documentation of methodology adopted in SGR, for circulation to participating gateways

ILRT in consultation with partners. Based on this document. Estimated date: end September 2000.

4.2 Literature Review

An examination of possible future technologies and standards for possible use by Subject Gateways. This will be informed by 4.2: IMesh mailing list discussion, and by research.

ILRT in consultation with partners and community. Estimated date: end September 2000.

4.3 Focussed IMesh mailing list discussion

IMesh community input: focussed discussion on the IMesh mailing list to draw in wider input, and to gather feedback on a first public draft of the Subject Gateway Review. There will be a time-limited discussion about current and future technologies, and also ongoing discussion.

ILRT in consultation with partners and then community. Estimated date: time-limited discussion completed by end October 2000; summary to be distributed to partners by mid November 2000.

4.4 Choice of Subject Gateways for detailed studies

In discussion with IMesh tk partners and on the IMesh list. Issue: how does this relate to alpha testers, steering committee etc? Should we pick different gateways to get more coverage?

ILRT in consultation with partners (and community?). Estimated date of decision: end September 2000.

4.5 Informal interviews

Focussing on a selection of typical or illustrative internet cataloguing projects, this part of the Subject Gateway Review will produce case studies designed to situate the planned IMeshTk software tools in their expected deployment context. This will include detailed studies based on selected gateways, informal interviews (email, phone).

ILRT. Estimated date: interviews will take place during October 2000; summary to be delivered to partners by mid November 2000.

4.6 Delivery of final report

Collating material from the informal interviews, the IMesh mailing list discussions and the literature review.

ILRT. Estimated delivery date: end November 2000.

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