DownScale 2013 workshop

DOWNSCALE 2013, the 2nd international workshop on downscaling the Semantic Web was held on 19-9-2013 in Geneva, Switzerland and was co-located with the Open Knowledge Conference 2013. The workshop seeks to provide first steps in exploring appropriate requirements, technologies, processes and applications for the deployment of Semantic Web technologies in constrained scenarios, taking into consideration local contexts. For instance, making Semantic Web platforms usable under limited computing power and limited access to Internet, with context-specific interfaces.

Downscale group picture
Downscale group picture

The workshop accepted three full papers after peer-review and featured five invited abstracts. in his keynote speech, Stephane Boyera of SBC4D gave a very nice overview of the potential use of Semantic Web for Social & Economic Development. The accepted papers and abstracts can be found in the  downscale2013 proceedings, which will also appear as part of the OKCon 2013 Open Book.


We broadcast the whole workshop live on the web, and you can actually watch the whole thing (or fragments) via the embedded videos below.

After the presentations, we had fruitful discussions about the main aspects of ‘downscaling’. The consensus seemed to be that Downscaling involved the investigation and usage of Semantic Web technologies and Linked Data principles to allow for data, information and knowledge sharing in circumstances where ‘mainstream’ SW and LD is not feasible or simply does not work. These circumstances can be because of cultural, technical or physical limitations or because of natural or artificial limitations.


The figure  illustrates a first attempt to come to a common architecture. It includes three aspects that need to be considered when thinking about data sharing in exceptional circumstances:

  1. Hardware/ Infrastructure. This aspect includes issues with connectivity, low resource hardware, unavailability, etc.
  2.  Interfaces. This concerns the design and development of appropriate interfaces with respect to illiteracy of users or their specific usage. Building human-usable interfaces is a more general issue for Linked data.
  3. Pragmatic semantics. Developing LD solutions that consider which information is relevant in which (cultural) circumstances is crucial to its success. This might include filtering of information etc.

The right side of the picture illustrates the downscaling stack.

On the top of this stack sits the human in the loop, the end use that wants to share data. On the bottom of the stack we can see the bits that make up the data. Downscaling is concerned with the levels of abstraction in between:

  • The Network infrastructure deals with the need for solutions that deal with not-always-online networks, networks that might be very expensive to deploy and maintain, and networks whose bandwidth is not sufficient for mainstream data sharing solutions.
  • The Linked Data infrastructure that is developed on top of this hardware also needs to take into account the limited connectivity of the layer beneath it. Furthermore we need to investigate how Linked Data principles and technologies such as URIs, RDF and SPARQL stay afloat in these situations.
  • The pragmatic semantics concern the filtering of data that is to be distributed to the end-user (see above).
  • The interface is crucial in allowing people in for example rural areas to share data (see above)
  • Another key dimension is shown in the middle part. Downscaling Linked Data should concern both the creation as well as the consumption of data.

Other important points to raise are:

  •  Downscaling focuses on the application of mainstream technologies to very constrained scenarios, the very same way that “appropriate technology” focused on different scenarios. However, given its parallel evolution, such technology can also provide valuable solutions when mainstream approaches can not work in some situations (natural disasters, failure of the grid, unstable nations, etc)
  • A parallel approach is needed in order to make sure all stakeholders and all types of resources are considered; this goes anywhere from the conception of technical standards to the consideration of national and regional policies; i.e. some technologies, while being sound, can not be applied in some nations because of various issues
  • Given the fact that ⅔ of world population do not enjoy the Internet and that there exists hundreds of ad-hoc independent approaches to putting solution to the consequences of this pressing problem, a unifying force is needed in order to provide focused, concerted and effective efforts that will gather the best out of all such ad-hoc approaches

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