Web Magazine for Information Professionals

DESIRE: Development of a European Service for Information on Research and Education

Klaas Wierenga, the director of DESIRE, describes this pan-European project in which the academic network services of the UK have a large stake.

Desire is a large, pan- European co-operative development project to promote the use of the World Wide Web (WWW) in the European research community. The project has attracted substantial funding from the European Union's Fourth Framework Programme.

The project is co-ordinated by SURFnet bv, the academic network provider in the Netherlands and has a total of 23 partners in 8 countries. Other major contractors are the University of Bristol, Lund University Library, Netlab (Sweden), UNINETT/AS (Norway), Origin bv (the Netherlands), the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, the Queen's University of Belfast and the Joint Research Centre of the European Union (Italy).

The aim of Desire is to solve the problems which currently hamper the use of the World Wide Web as a means of giving researchers access to research data. This is done by improving the technical infrastructure, by enhancing the users knowledge through training and by creating well-maintained collections of relevant research data.

In establishing this service, Desire builds on existing projects like SOSIG, ROADS and Netskills in the UK, The Nordic Web Index project in Sweden and SURF-ACE in the Netherlands. The reason for co-operation on a European level is to make the developed services more general and to gain knowledge and raise mutual awareness.


In the ISUS work group of TERENA, devoted to Information Systems and User Support, there were a lot of thoughts on the future of the World Wide Web as a means for researchers to disseminate research results. On a conference in December '94, people involved in ISUS decided on writing project proposals for the Telematics Applications Programme. Erik Huizer of SURFnet, now managing director of the SURFnet ExpertiseCentrum, wrote project proposals for an e-mail, a conferencing and an Information Services project.

The Information Services project plan later resulted in the Desire project proposal, nominated by the EC as the best proposal in the Research for Telematics area. Negotiations on the contract with the European Commission proved to be extremely difficult. The start of the project was because of these problems delayed by half a year, thus serious threatening the state- of-the-art properties of some initial anticipated deliverables. The official start of the project was January 1, 1996

The Issues

The World Wide Web has grown dramatically over the last few years. However, the amount of data available is enormous. The problems have grown equally.

It has become increasingly difficult to locate relevant resources. It is not uncommon to get over 10,000 hits when searching for a single word in search-engines like AltaVista, Lycos and Webcrawler. Even general subject based catalogues like Yahoo are becoming less useful because of the enormous amount of data.

Another problem with these tools is the fact that they are US-oriented thus inducing a lot of expensive transatlantic traffic whereas the bandwidth of transatlantic connections is scarce.

As opposed to the time before the 'Web revolution' it has become extremely easy to put information on the Internet. The ease of doing so has meant that everybody, indeed, does put information on the web. However, the quality of the information in terms of availability, relevance, uniformity and timeliness is on average very low, and in fact unacceptable for serious research activities.

A last problem is the lack of tools to provide access to information on a restricted basis, whether because of commercial interests or because of matters of confidentiality.

The Works

The goals of Desire are stated as to deliver the following:

The Results

In general, taking on a project the size of Desire means taking risks. It is anticipated that some parts of the project will fail to deliver useful results, while others will not deliver the desired results. Large parts of the projects will hopefully end in useful contributions to the European research community.

Several of the pilot services which will be established, are planned to continue as production services. Component technologies (caching, indexing methods) have clear exploitation possibilities by providers of information services and network operators, although the legal problems of providing secure information services, particularly across national boundaries, will remain.

The participating service providers in Desire (SURFnet, UNINETT, Origin) will exploit the technical infrastructure to deliver an information service infrastructure to their customers.

The ongoing monitoring and review and the provision of full documentation and training packages means that the benefits of Desire will be clearly and careful recorded and that the project is ready for transition to the exploitation phase.

Tangible results so far are the deliverables presented in three of the workpackages:

Further deliverables will be presented on the Desire deliverables page, http://www.nic.surfnet.nl/pr ojects/desire/deliver/deliver.html.


The co-operation in a project of the scale of Desire remains a hot issue. It is hard to keep coherence between the workpackages. The evaluation and training workpackages and the project management will need to keep a close eye on the evolvement of the project. When this can be achieved the total of the project can have a great impact on the use of the World Wide Web as a means of communication between researchers and others in Europe.

More information on the Desire project can be found on the Desire webpages, http://www.nic.surfnet.nl/surfnet/projects/desire , or by e-mailing the author, Klaas.Wierenga@sec.nl.