"OpenWebSearch.EU is an open project where others can contribute"


A trustworthy search that protects the personal data of its users and integrates European laws: This is the goal of OpenWebSearch.EU, a European research project from the Horizon Europe programme involving 14 universities, institutes and data centres, including the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ). Part of the plan is to involve external research groups and companies in questions and practical implementation. To this end, the first public call for proposals of OpenWebSearch.EU is currently running and ends on 28 April. The project calls for research studies on economic and legal issues of open search, as well as technology concepts for managing data according to European (data protection) rights. Prof. Michael Granitzer from the University of Passau, who is leading the project, and Dr. Megi Sharikadze from the LRZ, who is coordinating the calls and external co-thinkers, describe the strategy behind this unusual measure for research projects, who is applying and who will judge the submissions.

Are such calls to external parties common in European projects or is this a novelty for OpenWebSearch.EU? Prof. Dr. Michael Granitzer: Normally, calls to third parties are only common in a few research concepts. OpenWebSearch.EU is part of the Next Generation Internet initiative, a Horizon Europe programme that supports the development of technologies for decentralised data management and an Internet for people according to European values. And here many projects are designed for the implementation of such calls, called Financial Support to Third Parties  or for shorten FSTP. At OpenWebSearch.EU we are developing both infrastructure and tasks for such FSTPs - this is a novelty.

How is OpenWebSearch.EU connected to this? Granitzer: The main strategy is to build an ecosystem around the Open Web Index. The planned infrastructure is aimed at a wide range of potential stakeholders - Internet users, companies with their own research and development departments, technology providers and academics. We want to address them directly and motivate them to get involved in web search. Also, the topic is so broad that we cannot cover everything in the OpenWebSearch.EU project. So we hope for a lively response from the community.

What has been the response to the calls so far - are research groups or companies more likely to apply? Dr Megi Sharikadze: Applicants often perfect their concepts and applications until the last submission days. As the call for proposals runs until the end of April, we expect that most applications will be received in the last week. Since we are pioneering the open web index, information about the call is likely to reach potentially interested parties only with a delay - new topics need time to become known. In any case, we look forward to solid concepts and contributions from groups from industry and academia.

What criteria do you use to select the groups? Sharikadze: The main criterion is that FSTP concepts meaningfully enrich the main OpenWebSearch.EU project – either by complementing topics covered in it, such as data protection or control options for users, or by supporting ongoing technical development work on the open web index. Granitzer: After 28th of April, the applications will be evaluated by a committee of the external experts and the members of the OpenWebSearch.EU project, by the end of June, the awardings will have been made. We hope to receive many well-designed proposals so that we can select the best ones.

Do calls like this make coordination more difficult or do they bring new impetus to the project? Sharikadze: I would say both. Of course, call announcement, the selection of proposals, especially onboarding of the third parties, and management of grants are additional tasks for project coordination and management. However, with its own dedicated budget for third party contributions, OpenWebSearch.EU project becomes an open project in which additional partners can get involved. So, we win co-thinkers, co-creators and supporters.

Further calls are planned: When will the next one start? Sharikadze: This is the first of three calls. The next one will be announced at the end of this year. Interested parties can find out more on the OpenWebSearch.EU website.

Almost half a year after the launch - how far has work on the web index progressed? Granitzer: The basic organisation, i.e., project management, meetings, coordination of the working groups, has been established. There is a roadmap for the individual technical work packages, and the individual groups are making good progress. Crawling started at the beginning of April, pre-processing of data and indexing of web content will follow in June and July. We hope to have the first parts of the index built by the end of September, although this first version will only cover rudimentary text searching. The basis for this is a distributed infrastructure across several European data centres and, in particular, a data storage system based on Integrated Rule-Oriented Data Systems or iRODS, an open source software for data management. In addition, the definition of use cases and search verticals is progressing, as is the consideration of legal, ethical and social frameworks. (interview: vs)