In 2005 AGROVOC was converted from a traditional thesaurus to a more flexible concept scheme expressed using Resource Description Framework (RDF). The goal was to allow it to continue fulfilling its traditional function of document indexing while meeting the needs of other information types as well as the emerging needs of semantically-enabled applications.
The low usability of traditional ontology editing tools available at the time coupled with the need for a collaborative environment that supported roles-based authentication, editorial workflow, and multilingual search led to the development of the Concept Server Workbench, a web application specifically tailored to the AGROVOC Vocabulary.
Concept Server Workbench was a concept-based management system which compared to a traditional knowledge organization system allowed for a much more flexible representation of semantics such as ad-hoc relationships between concepts and specialized relationships across multilingual lexicalizations. It particularly allowed for modelling localized differences in knowledge representation, i.e. defining concepts via their language specific lexicalizations and relations.
Following this first re-engineering of AGROVOC, new knowledge representation languages emerged for the web that were expressly intended to represent concept schemes. In 2009, the W3C approved Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS) as a recommendation. As FAO had participated in the working groups, SKOS, together with the SKOS-XL vocabulary (SKOS Extension for Labels) were a perfect fit for the modeling requirements of AGROVOC.
Based on this new growing community and the fast rise of Linked Open Data approaches to data dissemination, the decision was made in 2010 to transform the Concept Server Workbench into a general-purpose, SKOS-compliant platform for collaborative knowledge management. The Concept Server Workbench thus gave way to VocBench, a distributed editing framework for thesauri, glossaries, authority lists, code lists, taxonomies and classifications. The current production version, VocBench 1.3.1, still relies internally to some extent on the original customized OWL knowledge model though it offers facilities for a clean SKOS/SKOS-XL export of its content.
The team is completing work on a major rewrite of VocBench that shares services with University of Rome at Tor Vergata’s Semantic Turkey, a Mozilla plugin for semantic annotation and ontology enrichment. This version (2.0) will be released in the spring of 2013 and features many improvements such as native SKOS support, support for multiple triple-stores and OSGi compliance. Support for generic OWL ontologies is also on the roadmap. Already licensed under GNU GPL v3, following the release of this version the team plans to begin managing VocBench as an open source project in order to stimulate the community in adding new functionality via VocBench’s new-found OSGi compliance.