OWLA - Mobile aware web information systems

Toni Alatalo, Harri Oinas-Kukkonen
Dept. of Information Processing Science, University of Oulu, Finland
{toni.alatalo, harri.oinas-kukkonen@oulu.fi}


A starting point for OWLA research project is to develop methods, techniques, tools and principles for designing mobile aware Web information systems. For doing this, Web information systems are treated as hypertext information systems.

The two-year project has recently been started and the research will be carried out in the HYTEC research lab (Hypertext Information Systems and Mobile Electronic Commerce) at the Department of Information Processing Science at the university of Oulu, Finland, in collaboration with companies in the industry (e.g. Satama Interactive and Nokia Mobile Phones) as a part of VIRGIN research group, Infotech research center and Mobile Forum Oulu research program.

Adapting to mobile: wireless aware services

OWLA research project will emphasise the design of the mobile aware Web information systems so that they can also be utilised through mobile phones. Mobile aware Web information systems recognise the special needs of mobile access and use. The issue here is not the way of data transfer itself, but for example the requirements that small handheld computers, different user interfaces and slower transfer rates set for the design [1].

In order to develop lasting solutions, designers must be able to see the systems independent of technology. The required functionalities can be then implemented in different infrastructures (e.g. Web and Wap) separately if needed, but so that they can be part of the same systems i.e. the content and services need not be duplicated, just the interface. This way a consistent system may be flexible enough for future needs too. As a technical concept, open architectures include this capability of interoperability.

By adaptive systems, we do not (only) mean the technical adaptivity required in a heterogeneous environment (e.g. adapting the bandwidth of a video stream depending on the communication link in use) but the usability aspects. The promise of profiling the services based on e.g. user or task specific information has rallied around Internet development for long, but is yet questionable. Interestingly, the mobile dimension introduced by the now emerging mobile use of information services may provide adapting the system with an extra parameter: the physical location of the user. The possible mechanisms of using this information and estimating it's value are under study right now.

Project background: Web information systems development methodologies

Web information systems differ from Web pages in that they are more complex, they are often integrated with organisation’s other information systems, and they support knowledge work [2]. On the other hand, also basic Web pages are becoming more complex so that the design and maintenance of them through a similar activity is becoming a more appealing approach [3]. Web information systems engineering means a collection of sound principles, methods and tools for developing Web information systems, which differ from traditional information systems in their unique technological platform and design philosophy.

Traditional structured methodologies and object-oriented design methodologies do not support the design peculiarities, which are necessary in hypermedia design, like navigation and orientation. For instance, OOA/OOD [4], OMT [5], OMT++ [6], OODA [7], or UML/Objectory [8] all are lacking or are very limited in their support for designing important hypermedia features, like linking and navigation. Most of these also lack a genuine support for strongly adaptive end-user interfaces, content selection and selective functionality that are expected to be important for future applications that are aware of multiple types of terminals (such as mobile devices) and different types of users (some even with disabilities).

The development of systematic requirement analysis and design methodologies for hypertext and multimedia applications is still necessary and strongly requested by practitioners, e.g. because the above mentioned hypermedia methodologies have remained more or less as research vehicles rather than being adopted widely into use. Moreover, current hypermedia methodologies do not address the entire development lifecycle, or support the design of higher level so called ‘fourth generation hypermedia features [9]. One of the key features of Web information systems beyond traditional and object-oriented information systems is its emphasis on user navigation, multi-level interactivity of the environment, and the incorporation of richer hypertext functionality into Web information systems. The hypertext facilities to be incorporated into Web information systems include, e.g. typed nodes, annotations, automatically generated links, rich links and navigational features built on top of them [10,11].

Future research plans

The OWLA development methodology will build upon the lessons learned through RMM and OOHDM, as well as OMT++ and other development efforts. The project will also investigate hypertext navigation, meta-information and navigational aids build on top of meta-information, user modelling and adaptive hypermedia, information composition from multiple sources, and separation of information contents, representation and functionality. XML (eXtended Markup Language) and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) belong to main techniques under investigation (among others). However, the design principles to be developed will remain independent of specific application domains and techniques [12].


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  10. Ashman Helen, Alejandra Garrido & Harri Oinas-Kukkonen (1997) Hand-made and Computed Links, Precomputed and Dynamic Links. In N. Fuhr et al. (editors): Hypertext – Information Retrieval – Multimedia: Theorien, Modelle und Implementierungen integrierter elektronischer Informatiossysteme (HIM ‘97), UVK Universitätsverslag Konstanz GmbH, Konstanz 1997, pp. 191-208.
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  12. Oinas-Kukkonen Harri, Alatalo Toni, Kaasila Jouko, Kivelä Henri & Sivunen Sami (2000) Requirements for Web Information Systems Engineering Methodologies. In M. Rossi & K. Siau (editors): Information Modelling in the Next Millenium (in print).