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Jewish heritage will change the way we surf the web

The stories of Judaism and other aspects of Jewish cultural heritage are to be preserved online in a new international project that will provide a unique, multi-media, networked resource for use by scholars, educationalists and the general public.

At the core of the €2.5m MOSAICA project is a new type of search engine that understands semantics and the meaning of whole phrases, rather than just looking for individual words or groups of words. This is called an ontological search engine and will allow the user to find a range of material on a subject, even if it doesn't contain the original search term. MOSAICA's initial focus is Jewish cultural heritage but the project will be potentially extended to other cultural heritage domains and communities.

Dr Babak Akhgar, a Reader at Sheffield Hallam University who is leading a team of eight researchers working on developing the ontological search engine for MOSAICA explains, "This project is unique in a number of ways. Firstly, it is unusual in combining social science and IT in such a cohesive way, and the search engine itself will be cutting-edge and could have implications for the future of web browsing.

"From a social perspective we are hoping that this project will raise awareness of our diversified cultural heritage and will seamlessly integrate a number of different resources into one experience. For example, if somebody searched for 'Moses parting the sea' then the search engine could provide video footage of a dramatisation of the event, manuscripts giving more detail and poetry and other artistic interpretations. None of these articles would need to necessarily include the exact words in the search terms, but the engine will know what the phrase means as a whole and will search for suitable material.

"This type of technology has implications not only for the way we source cultural material, but also for the way we brose the internet more generally. In a few years time these 'intelligent' search engines could become the norm."

The tool will be used in three different ways to provide different experiences for the user:

- Explorative usage – Users will be able to visit places that evoke their interest and motivation, by merely zooming in on an area on MOSAICA's geographical maps of Europe, by exploring the MOSAICA semantic directory, or by submitting a query.

- Guided usage – Rather then exploring “from scratch”, users will be able to select ready made, thematically oriented Virtual Expeditions that will guide them through the virtual worlds of MOSAICA. MOSAICA will offer a variety of recommended Virtual Expeditions divided by topics and objectives

- Collaborative usage. - Educational personnel and individual users will be able to share their cultural assets and knowledge

All of the material will be referenced and quality checked and will be sourced from all over the globe. An international board of editors will ensure that the material available is high quality and suitable for educational purposes. It is hoped that this will be the first of many projects to preserve the heritage of a range of cultures and religions.

Lorna Branton | alfa
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