Where Do I Go From Here: A Multiagent System To Support Collaborative Web Browsing

Samhaa El-Beltagy, David De Roure and Wendy Hall
Multimedia Research Group
Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton
Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
+44  23 8059 2418


We present a multiagent framework that has been developed to assist Web users within organizations or groups in their information finding and navigation activities. The framework attempts to exploit the idea that information acquired and created by one user navigating the information space is something that can be utilized to assist other users in their browsing and information finding activities.

Keywords: Software agents, Open Hypermedia, information finding, navigation assistance, proxies.

1. Introduction

The work presented was motivated by the need to find an effective engineering paradigm with which open hypermedia, an information management and navigation model with considerable potential for readers and authors alike, could be applied to real distributed multimedia information. The work recognizes the value of sharing human knowledge and experience. Supporting navigation, searching, commenting, and annotation of information created, has been a long-standing goal of hypermedia. However, the WWW has yet to explore the concept of human collaboration to its fullest. The sheer size of the WWW is easily a hurdle in the achievement of such a goal. The work presented therefore addresses this issue on the level of groups or organizations where such collaboration would result in maximum benefits. The goals of the proposed system can be summarized as follows:

2. System Overview And Architecture

A collaborative multiagent framework that can support agents working towards distributed information management in the context of open hypermedia, was implemented. Details of the architecture and its implementation can be found in (El-Beltagy et al., 1999) . Agents in the presented system can be viewed as information producers and consumers. The most important agents in the system are: 3. Agent Interactions

Interaction between agents in this framework exists on two levels. The first level involves sharing of information. The second level involves exchange of services. In this particular framework, two types of services prevail: query answering and document alteration services.

User queries prompt the UI agent to contact appropriate agents. A user query could be very generic entered using keywords in which case agents or wrappers around search resources are consulted. A user query can also be made in relation to his/her current context defined by a given document. "Recommend related documents" is an example of such a query.

Document alteration services, are performed by any agent that can somehow change the appearance of a document. The agents that perform such a service are called document modifiers. When document modifiers register with the system, they have to provide a description of the kind of alteration they are capable of performing. The user interface agent makes the user aware of the existence of such a service and its description, but it is up to the user to choose which of those (if any), to employ. The proxy server component of the user interface allows for incremental services that influence the display of a requested URL, to be added. This process can currently take place in one of two ways according to the user preference and the number of document modifiers that exist in the system. In the first method, the proxy fetches a requested URL, but rather than sending it back to the browser, streams it across the different document modifiers while piping the output of one agent as an input to another. As the number of document modifiers in the system increases, the response time for displaying a requested URL may not be acceptable using this cascading approach. The second method relies on the concept of server push (Netscape, 1999) . In this scenario, the proxy server sends the document to the browser as soon as it is fetched. It then sends the content of the URL to the different document modifiers. When the last of the agents finishes, the proxy server "pushes" the final modified document to the browser.

Where do I go from here?
Based on these interactions, users can obtain recommendations to resources related to pages they encounter while browsing the Web and which are derived from the bookmarking activities of other users. They can immediately see a group average rating which has been added on the fly beside a link in a document they are viewing and which can give them an indication of what the general view seems to be on that link. If a link has been commented on, then a user can view those comments. If other users have created links relevant to the document a user is viewing, then this link is shown in the document, possibly saving valuable search time. Personal ratings are also utilized in warning users off from re-visiting pages they have already expressed a disliking for. Collectively, these factors make for an enhanced browsing experience.

4. Summary

Previous work has addressed the usefulness of adding annotations(LaLiberte and Braverman, 1995), and links(Carr et al., 1995) on the fly. This work however makes use of a multiagent architecture to bring together recommendation services, and document modification services into one integrated architecture that better serves users in their browsing activities. Among the advantages of such an approach is its openness and extensibility. Within such a system, the dynamic addition and retraction of agents and services is supported. Document modifiers, or more advanced recommendation facilities can easily extend this system to make it even more useful.

5. Acknowledgments

The work presented in this paper has been supported by ESPRC grants GR/K73060 and GR/M77086.

6. References