Trip Report: ESWC 2022

The last post on this blog was two years ago at the start the pandemic. It was a trip report on one of the first virtual conferences I attended – the 2020 Knowledge Graph Conference. In the intervening two years, I’ve attended other virtual conferences and even attended a couple of hybrid ones, but I found it challenging to produce a synthesis or get my head around them. Without the running into people, the random pinch of an idea gotten by sitting in the back of the talk, or the chat at the poster; I just found it hard to pull out threads from a conference or event. When I did try, I often felt like what I was doing was either regurgitating the structure given by conference organisers or performing a literature review – both of which don’t get at what I try to do with a trip report, which is to find themes and hints at where a community is and where it’s going. That’s why I think ESWC 2022 is a good place to start to try to get back into the habit of writing trip reports because it was a completely in-person event. Oh and I was also one one of the organisers. 🙂

Logistics

2022 was the 19th edition of the European Semantic Web Conference (extended/european??). This year, I had the honor of being general chair of the conference, so I wanted to start off with discussing some of my thoughts on conference logistics in particular around hybrid.

When I was asked to be general chair last year, it was still unclear what the situation would be in summer 2022. The one thing I did say was that we would go either completely online or completely in-person and not hybrid. The rationale for me behind this was a threefold : 1) I wasn’t sure I could deliver a quality experience for both in-person and online attendees from the venue which is both beautiful but also not someplace where there’s support infrastructure beyond the hotel. I know that Victor de Boer was able to do an excellent hybrid event at Semantics 2021 in Amsterdam but that involved using his whole and very extensive local network. 2) I think one of the great things about ESWC is that it really feels like a community and plays an essential role in fostering connections. Hence, beyond the technical logistics, I wanted to prioritise the in-person experience and I didn’t think I could do that and still have a good online aspect. 3) I knew that we would make all the content available (all the papers, videos of all the talks) so those that could not attend still had access to almost everything.

Overall, I think the community was happy to be in-person by the show of hands in the town hall and the engagement at the poster session and coffee breaks:

This was also buttressed by the number of hands that went up in the PhD Symposium when asked if this was the first time at a conference. The students I talked to were just so excited about being in-person and how it energised them.

To get a feel for what it was like, check out the impression video below.

That’s not to say that hybrid can’t be done well and doesn’t have benefits but in this case I think we made the right decision.

There’s lots more to say about logistics of running a conference as a general chair but I’ll that for now and just offer two pieces of advice:

  1. TVs where you can adaptively adjust the schedule and make announcements are a win; and
  2. (this is pretty obvious) get a great organising team. I was very lucky to have an awesome organising team who both took charge, knew when to ask questions, and were pragmatic. I am very grateful. I will in particular call out Umutcan Simsek who picked up a massive amount of local organization work at the last minute and really made things run smoothly.

From logistics to research, here are my 4 key take-aways from the conference.

Playing with multiple representations

Knowledge Graph embeddings have been one of the biggest research trends in the field in recent years and ESWC was no different with at least 6 papers in the research track developing new approaches to embeddings, leveraging them in a task or using approaches based on them as a baseline.

What I found interesting was that this year was the movement towards trying to capture more kinds of knowledge in these embedding spaces. I’ll point to two papers as examples:

But this idea of multiple representations, went beyond just embeddings to include topic model representations of knowledge graphs and learning how to aggregate rules learned from a knowledge graph.

This playing around with multiple representations was also emphasised in Axel Ngonga’s keynote where he brought us through his thinking on how to get better performance on various knowledge graph tasks via switching representational perspectives.

Even pushing this further you can think about the integration of discrete representations and learning, which was the theme of the really excellent keynote by Mathias Niepert. Here’s the summary from his slide.

Overall, I hope the community continues to think about and push on this notion of multiple perspectives on knowledge representation and for different kinds of knowledge not just what we have in a knowledge graph.

Multiple modalities

Riffing of this point, I thought it was great to see research on talking on different modalities including:

Vision and Video:

Smell (which won the best resource paper award):

Audio:

e.g. Audio Ontologies for Intangible Cultural Heritage by Tan et al.

Integrating software development and knowledge graphs

It was also good to see consideration be taken for how to integrate knowledge graphs into the software development lifecycle. We had a whole session dedicated to this and the best research paper addressed how to integrate object oriented programming models and semantic technologies. Other work looked out how SDK’s can facilitate the use of RDF data.

All this reminded of work from almost 10 years ago being led by Stefan Staab but I think maybe it’s now time for a resurgence given the importance of knowledge graphs in industry. This importance was seen by the really well attended industry track session and the completely packed knowledge graph construction tutorial.

New applications of Data Provenance

Tova Milo gave an amazing keynote about data disposal by design.

One of my favourite things was when she asked if the audience new what data provenance was almost every hand in the room shot up. So I think we’ve educated this community about the importance of provenance :-). She talked about how to use data provenance to address the problem of data reduction but put it in an overall framework that included using the provenance to help predict what data should or should not be retained.

She has a nice paper describing this vision with her co-authors that appeared in a special issue of IEEE Data Engineering Bulletin edited by Sebastian Schelter a member of our lab.

Wrap-up

There was much more at ESWC 2022. I couldn’t catch all the content because we also had to make sure that the logistics worked (e.g. why don’t we organise speed demos at the last minute). On a personal note, it was amazing to see the community together again in-person and how the event gave folks a a ton of energy and new ideas.

Random Thoughts

  • Lots of deep learning and machine learning in the talks but not in the word cloud… hmm.
  • Crete is still a nice place for a conference
  • Nice to hear of all the feedback that Xue Li got on her PhD Symposium paper Causal Domain Adaptation for Information Extraction from Complex Conversations
  • I also gave a keynote at a the NLIWod workshop on Informing Data Search through Data Practice. In-situ and constructive data search are cool problems.
  • Underrated – nothing like a conference to help make connections for project proposals and bootstrap conferences.
  • Thanks to Harald for taking me to find a good coffee.
  • Good luck to Catia for 2023. She’ll do amazing.

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