The Horizon 2020 project EOSC Enhance successfully concluded its 24-month mission, announcing the launch of its second release for the EOSC Portal, one of the main gateways to information and resources in the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).
EOSC ultimately aims to develop a Web of FAIR data and services for science in Europe upon which a wide range of value-added services can be built. This EOSC ecosystem is being built on existing infrastructures and services supported by the European Commission, Member States, as well as multidisciplinary research communities.
All these elements are becoming part of a federated ‘system of systems’, where content is aggregated and resources are findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable, fostering Open Science culture and practices for almost 2 million researchers in Europe, and beyond.
The EOSC Portal is a key hub in this ecosystem, currently consisting of three main components.
- The content component (https://eosc-portal.eu/) - Featuring updates on EOSC, the projects contributing to its realisation, relevant European and national policies, documents, tutorials and support materials, and other content.
- The provider component, also known as Providers Portal (https://providers.eosc-portal.eu/) - Where providers can register their profile and onboard resources into the EOSC Catalogue, contributing to developing EOSC into a rich environment in support of researchers.
- The user component, the EOSC Marketplace (https://marketplace.eosc-portal.eu/) - The user interface for researchers to find and access a wealth of services and resources, onboarded into the EOSC Catalogue.
EOSC Enhance completed its requirement gathering activity and implemented the subsequent transformations to the EOSC Portal, based on the actual needs of the research community. This release is the final result of the EOSC Enhance project wrapping up two years of intense activity for a 15-partner strong consortium, coordinated by the University of Athens with the support of EFIS Centre.
The technical team of the project has delivered added value services for providers who wish to onboard their resources in the EOSC Portal, as well as in the user interface and experience for researchers who need to access them via the Marketplace.
Feedback mechanisms have been improved in order to allow users and providers to get in touch with the development team more easily and have their voices heard.
EOSC Enhance Project Manager Carmela Asero (EFIS Centre) stated that, “in the last two years EOSC Enhance enriched the offering of the EOSC Portal by deploying new processes and specifications, improving user experience and streamlining the onboarding of resources for providers, including increased interoperability with other catalogues developed by national initiatives and thematic research communities.”
User-generated content and an improved Portal experience
A series of enhancements were implemented on the EOSC Portal Content Component, serving as the main gateway to the other parts of the Portal.
First of all, the improved login functionality at the top now allows users to remain logged in when moving from one component of the Portal to another, a further step towards a better user experience.
Based on user feedback, several parts of the website were revamped, such as a clickable map of Europe to learn more about Open Science policies, or the new view for EOSC use cases which are submitted directly by the community. Newsletters were also featured in a new dedicated section on the website, allowing users to retrieve all the past ones and not miss the key updates about the EOSC Portal.
In Year 2 of the project, users and providers could also produce their own content, submitting EOSC-related news or events, as well as the possibility for providers to create promotional articles for their resources available on the Marketplace.
One of the key outcomes of EOSC Enhance work on promoting the Portal in 2021 was the creation of a video to help raise awareness of the EOSC Portal, also beyond the usual EOSC circles.
Enhanced alignment between portal components
To optimise the alignment between the three components of the EOSC Portal, a framework for a joint development of common User Interface (UI) parts was introduced. The framework acts as a single source of consistent style and information for common UI parts and may be used by all future EOSC Portal ecosystem webpages. The built-in autologin mechanism improves the performance of the EOSC Portal Single Sign On integration, optimising the user experience, allowing them to stay logged in when navigating between different components of the Portal.
A collaborative environment was prepared for the website maintenance team with little technical expertise, with minimised technical barriers in mind. The planned information changes can be immediately previewed and tested from the early stages of development thanks to automatic deployments to on-demand testing instances using S3 cloud storage and Github Actions. Quality of the changes is assured by a quality assurance process using 3 stages of automatic test measures (production, beta, pull request) with high coverage rate of automated tests and manual testing before deploying in production. Highly customisable configuration allows for use in different development scenarios, without compromising the lightweight adoption granted by a focus on plug-and-play design. The system was integrated and implemented in the EOSC Portal and EOSC Marketplace, which makes the shared informative content consistent without worrying about future sustainability.
Refining the user interface and user experience on the Marketplace
This release of the EOSC Marketplace brings the bar of the Marketplace UX even higher. Plenty of updates can be easily noticed, including but not limited to: improved user projects with reorganised layout, copywriting and message notifications, search and filtering options for finding provider records, new dedicated provider pages, favourite resources panel for authenticated and non-authenticated users.
This is just the tip of an iceberg with countless almost invisible tweaks and fixes that build up to the general UX reception. Features like zoomable maps that allow users to properly see all the countries, links from various resource / provider properties to the system filters, intuitive selection boxes or changes in search phrase matching do not bring audible applause, which makes constant system usability monitoring and reacting on the potential problems even more burdensome. Nevertheless, keeping user satisfaction in mind, the effort put into development of analytical tools to evaluate the feature tour guides' results or measuring the usability of different suggested resource layouts with the use of A/B experiments, added up to building a harmonised, intuitive system.
Marketplace Recommender System
The new EOSC Marketplace Recommender System consists of two independent algorithms, along with a user-action probing mechanism to provide users with recommendations of the highest quality. Both systems offer suggestions on the basis of users’ interests, the interests of other similar users and their interactions with the EOSC Marketplace.
The first major part of the system is an agent implementing the state-of-the-art Neural Collaborative Filtering algorithm, which itself builds on one of the classic methods in the field. It pairs users with the services that they enjoy, using Deep Neural Networks. The second achievement of the system introduced in Autumn 2021 is the TD3 Reinforcement Learning agent, a novel take on the recommendation formula. It operates in the online environment-agent framework, where the environment represents even the most complex behaviour of the users, while the agent works to fine-tune the recommendations as closely as possible to real-time.
Therefore, the incremental growth of performance is almost a guarantee, provided the flow of data. It also takes into consideration the often overlooked aspect of the recommender systems - chronology of the user-system interactions. Not only can the RL agent provide relevant recommendations based on the users’ data, it can also adjust its output to the given search context, like a search query or user-chosen filters.
Order Management System integration
The final EOSC Enhance release of the Portal brings the full integration of the Order Management System into the hands of providers. Based on the information exchange between the Providers Dashboard and the Marketplace the administrators of providers can review their Marketplace records and with the use of a dedicated menu navigate straight to updating their profiles.
A dedicated page was introduced to let providers expose their alternative resource offers for different order types, configure technical parameters and set up the ordering process. The authorisation has been harmonised with the onboarding process to optimise UX for the onboarded providers. The various order management integration options, spanning from the use of the Service Order Management Back-office to the fully customised integration based on the prepared APIs and software libraries, have been properly documented and made available under https://marketplace.eosc-portal.eu/api_docs.
Onboarding quality resources for research from top providers
Having a rich catalogue of resources that addresses the long tail of science requires an EOSC Portal populated by a wide range of providers and their resources. In an effort to make the portal more provider-friendly, the EOSC Enhance team implemented significant technical changes.
EOSC Enhance has unified the previously separate databases of resources from eInfraCentral Catalogue and EOSC-hub Marketplace into a single EOSC Resource Registry, offering a unified view of the Providers and their Resources under a common model, called EOSC Profiles 3.0. In year 2, EOSC Enhance also provided the next generation of these profiles (v4.00) in the form of specifications which will pave the way for the inclusion of data sources, research products, regional and thematic catalogues in the near future.
EOSC Enhance has delivered a set of added value services for providers who wish to onboard and list their resources in the EOSC Portal.
First, a self-service onboarding process which allows providers to register their organisation and their resources. Providers can use a step-by-step process to submit and validate the details about their resources with the EOSC Portal Onboarding team (EPOT) .
In addition, EOSC Enhance delivered advanced validation and notification tools for improving and auditing the quality of the resources registered in the catalogue: EPOT members and provider users can be notified about invalid or outdated information (during and after onboarding) regarding their offerings and proceed with quality audits and improvement actions.
Providers can manage their complete resource portfolio in the EOSC Portal, through the Provider Dashboard. They can update the information about their organisation, resources, the ordering configurations, create draft resources, publish or unpublish resources in the Marketplace and view resources shared and co-provided with other organisations in the EOSC Portal. They can also view messages coming from users, statistics about visits and use of their offerings, as well as a complete timeline of changes and actions applied to their resource.
The EOSC Portal’s APIs have also been upgraded and now allow the entire management of providers, resources and orders by individual providers, the registration of resources from existing external catalogues and the retrieval of resources from thematic communities. Upcoming iterations will allow a more efficient and automated onboarding of a large number of resources that are already listed in existing catalogues - a functionality particularly relevant to national and thematic initiatives with potentially thousands of resources listed in their catalogues.
Future development of the EOSC Portal
EOSC Enhance has aligned with the EOSC Future project over the second half of 2021, as EOSC Future is taking over operations on the EOSC Portal starting in December 2021, continuing the work on integration and development of all components. A detailed handover process has been set up by EOSC Enhance and EOSC Future in due time for a smooth transfer of activities ensuring continuity of support to providers and users.
EOSC Enhance is leaving a legacy of Key Exploitable Results, providing solid foundations for the future evolution of the Portal, and contributing to the long-term mission of expanding the EOSC as a federated “system of systems” in the context of the Horizon Europe framework.
The final EOSC Enhance webinar, introducing the key upgrades included in this second EOSC Portal release, is taking place on 25 November 2021 at 15:00 CET. Register now and learn more about the evolution of the EOSC Portal.