Tag Archives: provenance

I’m just getting back from a nice trip to the US where I attended the Academic Data Science Alliance leadership summit and before that the Web Conference 2023 (WWW 2023) in Austin, Texas. This is the premier academic conference on the Web. The conference organisation was led by two friends and collaborators Dr. Juan Sequeda and Dr. Ying Ding. They did a fantastic job with the structure, food, keynotes (e.g. ACM Turing Award Winner Bob Metcalfe) and who can not give two thumbs up to BBQ and Austin Live Music. The last in-person Web Conference I was at was in 2018 in Lyon, so it was good to be back and to catch-up with a lot of folks in the community.

Provenance Week 2023

The main reason that I was at Web Conf was for Provenance Week 2023, which was collocated, It’s a bit of misnomer – since it was a special two day event. In the past, we’ve done this as a whole week as a separate event but coming out of the pandemic, the steering committees felt that collocating would be better. There were about 20 attendees. I was presenting the work we’ve done led by Stefan Grafberger on on mlinspect and use-cases for provenance and end-to-end machine learning. It was also nice to meet Julia Stoyanovich our co-author on this work for the first time in person. I also was very happy to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the W3C Prov provenance recommendation.

For that we organised a panel, with the other co-chair of the working group (Prof. Luc Moreau) and two co-editors (Prof. Paolo Missier, Prof. Deborah McGuinness). All three are also leaders in provenance research. We also were joined by Bryon Jacob – CTO of It was excellent to have Bryon there as is a heavy user of PROV and wasn’t involved in the standardisation effort. He commented on how from his perspective the spec was really usable. We discussed the up take of PROV. The panel felt that uptake has been good with demonstrable impact use but the committee members were hoping for more. The fact that it is often used within systems or as a frame of reference (e.g. HL7 FHIR) means that it’s not as widely known as hoped. I think the panel did agree that provenance is needed now more than ever. For example, Bryon focused on data governance where employs provenance. It’s becoming critical to know where data comes from to understand the broader data estate but also to deal with legal issues related to provenance. Additionally, generative AI is placing further demands on provenance. Here, I would point to work being pushed by Adobe specifically the Content Authenticity Initiative and their Firefly tools + LLM. Overall, the panel reinforced to me the need for interoperable provenance and the role that PROV has played in providing a reference point.

Beyond the panel, I took 3 things from the workshop:

  1. The intersection of provenance and data science/AI pipelines is promising. There’s a clear demand for it (and broadly ML-ops) but it also provides particular constraints that make designing provenance systems (somewhat) easier. You can make some assumptions about the kind of frameworks being used and the targeted applications are not too specific but also not completely general purpose. There’s also space for empirical insights to drive system development. This intersection was being investigated not only in our work mentioned above. For example, in Vanessa Braganholo’s keynote on the noWorkflow provenance system, I thought their work on analysing 1.4 million Juypter Notebooks was cool. I’d also mention a number of other systems discussed at the workshop including Data Provenance for Data Science and Vizier and a new system presented at the workshop focused on deep learning and data integration. Lastly, much of this work also touches on the importance of data cleaning in data science. Here, I liked the work presented by  Bertram Lud√§scher on using prospective provenance to document data cleaning and reuse such pipelines.
  2. Provenance-by-design – I found this notion introduced by Luc in his paper interesting. Instead of trying to retrofit provenance gathering to applications either through instrumentation or logging, one should first design what provenance to capture and then integrate the business logic with that. In some sense, this is thinking about your workflow but also what you need to report. I can imagine this being beneficial in regulated environments such as banking or in sustainability applications as described in the paper above.
  3. Interesting tasks for provenance in databases: I liked a couple of different papers that used the provenance functionality of database systems (i.e. provenance polynomials) for various tasks. For example, the work by Tanja Auge on using provenance to help create sharable portions of databases; or the work on expanding the explanation of queries to including contextual information (+10 points for using basketball examples); or the use of this functionality to support database education as presented by Sudeepa Roy in her keynote; or even to support provenance for SHACL.
  4. Provenance as a measure for data value: I really enjoyed Boris Glavic’s keynote on relevance-based data management. In particular, the idea of determining relevance of data and using that to understand which data has value and which doesn’t. Also check out his deck if you want a checklist for doing a keynote ūüėÄ

Overall, I think the workshop was a success. It was good to catch-up with old friends but also it was nice to hear from the younger scholars there that they felt connected to the community. Thanks to Yuval and Daniel for organising and also giving plenty of time for discussion during the workshop.

In addition to provenance week, there were a number of things that caught my eye at the conference. First, the Web Conf remains a top tier conference that’s challenging to get into. With 1891 submissions and acceptance rate of 19% in the research track. Given the quality of the conference there is an increasing number of submissions that maybe don’t really belong to the venue. Hence, I thought it was a great initiative by the organisers to really focus on defining what makes a web conference paper:

Generative AI

There was a lot of background discussion going on about generative AI and the implications for the web. Here, I would point to three of the keynotes. From the perspective of misinformation and the potential to expand that through generative AI, the keynote by David Rand specifically addressed misinformation and how to combat it from a social science perspective. More broadly Barbara Poblete’s advocated forcefully for inclusion in the development of AI systems and LLMs based on her research on developing social media and AI systems in Chile. Bob Metcalfe in his Turning Award speech discussed the idea of an engineering mindset and embracing the problems and opportunities of new technology. In his case, it was the internet, but why not for generative AI?

From the research talks, I liked the work on creating a pretrained knowledge graph model that can then be used by prompting. I also liked the work on doing query log analysis on prompt logs from users of generative models to help understand user intent. This is a pretty interesting analysis over quite a lot of prompts:

Generative AI also provides a new source of knowledge. A nifty example of this was from The Creative Web track where Bhavya et al. mined and importantly assessed creative analogies from GPT-3. Also there was nice example of extracting cultural common sense knowledge and the strengths and weaknesses of LLMs and knowledge graphs.


I spent some time in the history of the web sessions. This was really fun. Here, I would particularly call out the really great talk about the creation of Wikidata by Denny Vrandeńćińá. It’s an amazing success story. Definitely checkout the whole talk on YouTube.

More broadly there were a number of useful talks about enriching Wikidata. Specifically, about completing Wikidata tables using GPT-3 and using Wikidata to seed an information extractor from the web. This later paper is interesting for me because it uses QA based information extraction with an LLM a technique that we’ve been researching heavily. What I thought was interesting is that they do the QA directly on the HTML source itself. They use Wikidata to fine tune this extraction model.

Taxonomies are back and a thought on KG completion

There were quite a number of papers on building taxonomies including the student best paper award. Pointers:

In general, automatically creating hierarchies are useful for browsing and also useful for computer vision problems. Whether these papers are truly tackling taxonomies or just building hierarchies was a discussion we were having in the coffee break.

More broadly in the sessions where these papers were presented, there were a lot of papers on link prediction/node classification in knowledge graphs whether it was with metapaths; tackling temporal knowledge graphs or using multiple modalities. I’ve done work on this task myself but it would be nice to see different topics and more importantly different evaluation datasets. As Denny noted, Freebase shutdown in 2014 and we’re still doing evaluation on it

Overall, I think the Web as an evolving platform still presents some of the most exciting research challenges in CS. Austin was a great place to have it. Kudos to the team and the community.

Random thoughts

It’s not so frequently that you get a major international conference in your area of interest around the corner from your house. Luckily for me, that just happened. From June 30th – July 5th,¬†SIGMOD/PODS was hosted here in Amsterdam.¬†SIGMOD/PODS is one of the major conferences on databases and data management. Before diving into the event itself, I really wanted to thank ¬†Peter Boncz, Stefan Manegold, Hannes M√ľhleisen and the whole organizing team (from @CWI_DA¬†and the NL DB community) for getting this massive conference here:

and pulling off things like this:

Oh and really nice badges too:BKBnl49c.jpgGood job!


Surprisingly, this was the first time I’ve been at SIGMOD. While I’m pretty acquainted with the database literature, I’ve always just hung out in different spots. Hence, I had some trepidation attending wondering if I’d fit in? Who would I talk to over coffee? Would all the papers be about join algorithms or implications of cache misses on some new tree data structure variant? Now obviously this is all pretty bogus thinking, just looking at the proceedings would tell you that. But there’s nothing like attending in person to bust preconceived notions. Yes, there were papers on hardware performance and join algorithms – which were by the way pretty interesting – but there were many papers on other data management problems many of which we are trying to tackle (e.g. provenance, messy data integration). ¬†Also, there were many colleagues that I knew (e.g. Olaf & Jeff above). Anyway, perceptions busted! Sorry DB friends you might have to put up with me some more ūüėÄ.

I was at the conference for the better part of 6 days – that’s a lot of material – so I definitely missed a lot but here are the four themes I took from the conference.

  1. Data management for machine learning
  2. Machine learning for data management
  3. New applications of provenance
  4. Software & The Data Center Computer

Data Management for Machine Learning


Matei Zaharia (Stanford/Databricks) on the need for data management for ML

The success of machine learning has rightly changed computer science as a field. In particular, the data management community writ large has reacted trying to tackle the needs of machine learning practitioners with data management systems. This was a major theme at SIGMOD.

There were a number of what I would term holistic systems that helped manage and improve the process of building ML pipelines including using data. Snorkel DryBell provides a holistic system that lets engineers employ external knowledge (knowledge graphs, dictionaries, rules) to reduce the number of needed training examples needed to create new classifiers. Vizier provides a notebook data science environment backed fully by a provenance data management environment that allows data science pipelines to be debugged and reused.  Apple presented their in-house system for helping data management specifically designed for machine learning Рfrom my understanding all their data is completely provenance enabled Рensuring that ML engineers know exactly what data they can use for what kinds of model building tasks.

I think the other thread here is the use of real world datasets to drive these systems. The example that I found the most compelling was Alpine Meadow++ to use knowledge about ML datasets (e.g. Kaggle) to improve the suggestion on new ML pipelines in an AutoML setting. rsfZ2iZO.jpeg

On a similar note, I thought the work of Suhail Rehman from the University of Chicago on using over 1 million juypter  notebooks to understand data analysis workflows was particularly interesting. In general, the notion is that we need to taking a looking at the whole model building and analysis problem in a holistic sense inclusive of data management . This was emphasized by the folks doing the Magellan entity matching project in their paper on Entity Matching Meets Data Science.


Machine Learning for Data Management

On the flip side, machine learning is rapidly influencing data management itself. The aforementioned Megellan project has developed a deep learning entity matcher. Knowledge graph construction and maintenance is heavily reliant on ML. (See also the new work from Luna Dong & colleagues which she talked about at SIGMOD). Likewise, ML is being used to detect data quality issues (e.g. HoloDetect).

ML is also impacting even lower levels of the data management stack.


Tim Kraska list of algorithms that are or are being MLified

I went to the tutorial on Learned Data-intensive systems from Stratos Idreos and Tim Kraska. They overviewed how machine learning could be used to replace parts or augment of the whole database system and when that might be useful.

KbYGVEA2.jpegIt was quite good, I hope they put the slides up somewhere. The key notion for me is this idea of instance optimality: by using machine learning we can tailor performance to specific users and applications whereas in the past this was not cost effective because the need for programmer effort. They suggested 4 ways to create instance optimized algorithms and data structures:

  1. Synthesize traditional algorithms using a model
  2. Use a CDF model of the data in your system to tailor the algorithm
  3. Use a prediction model as part of your algorithm
  4. Try to to learn the entire algorithm or data structure

They had quite the laundry list of recent papers tackling this approach and this seems like a super hot topic.

Another example was SkinnerDb which uses reinforcement learning to on the fly to learn optimal join ordering. I told you there were papers on joins that were interesting.


New Provenance Applications

There was an entire session of SIGMOD devoted to provenance, which was cool.  What I liked about the papers was that that they had several new applications of provenance or optimizations for applications beyond auditing or debugging.

In addition to these new applications, I saw some nice new provenance capture systems:

Software & The Data Center Computer

This is less of a common theme but something that just struck me. Microsoft discussed their upgrade or overhaul of the database as a service that they offer in Azure. Likewise, Apple discussed FoundationDB – the mult-tenancy database that underlines CloudKit.

LI03R_uu.jpeg discussed their new file system to deal with containers and ML workloads across clusters with tens of thousands of servers. These are not applications that are hosted in the cloud but instead they assume the data center. These applications are fundamentally designed with the idea that they will be executed on a big chunk of an entire data center. I know my friends at super computing have been doing this for ages but I always wonder how to change one’s mindset to think about building applications that big and not only building them but upgrading & maintaining them as well.


Overall, this was a fantastic conference. Beyond the excellent technical content, from a personal point of view, it was really eye opening to marinate in the community. From the point of view of the Amsterdam tech community, it was exciting to have an Amsterdam Data Science Meetup with over 500 people.

If you weren’t there, video of much of the event is available.

Random Notes



Last week, I had the pleasure to be able to attend a bilateral meeting between the Royal Society and the KNAW. The aim was to strengthen the relation between the UK and Dutch scientific communities. The meeting focused on three scientific areas: quantum physics & technology; nanochemistry; and responsible data science. I was there for the latter. The event was held at Chicheley Hall which is a classic baroque English country house (think Pride & Prejudice). It’s a marvelous venue – very much similar in concept to Dagstuhl (but with an English vibe) where you are really wholly immersed in academic conversation.


One of the fun things about the event was getting a glimpse of what other colleagues from other technical disciplines are doing. It was cool to see Prof. Bert Weckhuysen enthusiasm for using imaging technologies to understand catalysts at the nanoscale. Likewise, seeing both the progress and the investment (!) in quantum computing from Prof. Ian Walmsley was informative. I also got an insider intro to the challenges of engineering a quantum computer from Dr. Ruth Oulton.

The responsible data science track had ~15 people. What I liked was that the organizers not only included computer scientists but also legal scholars, politicians, social scientists, philosophers and policy makers. The session consisted primarily of talks but luckily everyone was open to discussion throughout. Broadly, responsible data science covers the ethics of the practice and implications of data science or put another way:

For more context, I suggest starting with two sources: 1) The Dutch consortium on responsible data science 2) the paper 10 Simple Rules for Responsible Big Data Research. I took away two themes both from the track as well as my various chats with people during coffee breaks, dinner and the bar.

1) The computer science community is engaging

It was apparent through out the meeting that the computer science community is confronting the challenges head on. A compelling example was the talk by Dr.¬†Alastair Beresford¬†from Cambridge about Device Analyzer¬†a system that captures the activity of user’s mobile phones in order to provide data to improve device security, which it has:

He talked compellingly about the trade-offs between consent and privacy and how the project tries to manage these issues. In particular, I thought how they handle data sharing with other researchers was interesting. It reminded me very much of how the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics manages microdata on populations.

Another example was the discussion by Prof. Maarten De Rijke on the work going on with diversity for recommender and search systems. He called out the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAT*) that was happening just after this meeting, where the data science community is engaging on these issues. Indeed, one of my colleagues was tweeting from that meeting:

Julian Huppert, former MP, discussed the independent review board setup up by DeepMind Health to enable transparency about their practices. He is part of that board. ¬†Interestingly, Richard Horton, Editor of the Lancet is also part of that board Furthermore, Prof. Bart Jacobs discussed the polymorphic encryption based privacy system he’s developing for a collaboration between Google’s Verily and Radboud University around Parkinson’s disease. This is an example that ¬†even the majors are engaged around these notions of responsibility.¬†To emphasize this engagement notion even more, during the meeting a new report on the Malicious Uses of AI came out from a number or well-known organizations.

One thing that I kept thinking is that we need more assets or concrete artifacts that data scientists can apply in practice.

For example, I like the direction outlined in this article from Dr. Virginia Dignum¬†about defining concrete principles using a design for values based approach. See TU Delft’s Design for Values Institute for more on this kind of approach.

2) Other methods needed

As data scientists, we tend to want to use an experimental / data driven approach even to these notions surrounding responsibility.

Even though I think there’s absolutely a role here for a data driven approach, it’s worth looking at other kinds of more qualitative methods, for example, by using survey instruments or an ethnographic approach or even studying the textual representation of the regulatory apparatus. ¬†For instance, reflecting on the notion of Thick Data is compelling for data science practice. This was brought home by¬†Dr. Ian Brown in his talk on data science and regulation which combined both an economic and survey view:

Personally, I tried to bring some social science literature to bear when discussing the need for transparency in how we source our data. I also argued for the idea that adopting a responsible approach is also actually good for the operational side of data science practice:

While I think it’s important for computer scientists to look at different methods, it’s also important for other disciplines to gain insight into the actual process of data science itself as Dr. Linnet Taylor grappled within in her talk about observing a data governance project.

Overall, I enjoyed both the setting and the content of the meeting. If we can continue to have these sorts of conversations, I think the data science field will be much better placed to deal with the ethical and other implications of our technology.

Random Thoughts

  • Peacocks!
  • Regulating Code – something for the reading list
  • Somebody remind me to bring a jacket next time I go to an English Country house!
  • I always love it when egg codes get brought up when talking about provenance.
  • I was told that I had a “Californian conceptualization” of things – I don’t think it was meant as a complement – but I’ll take it as such ūüôā
  • Interesting pointer to work by¬†Seda Gurses about in privacy and software engineering¬†from¬†@1Br0wn
  • Lots of discussion of large internet majors and monopolies. There’s lots of academic work on this but I really like Ben Thompson’s notion of aggregator’s as the way to think about them.
  • Merkle trees are great – but blockchain is a nicer name ūüėČ


Last week, I was at Provenance Week 2016. This event happens once every two years and brings together a wide range of researchers working on provenance. You can check out my trip report from the last Provenance Week in 2014.  This year Provenance Week combined:

For me, Provenance Week is like coming home, lots of old friends and a favorite subject of mine. It’s also a good event to attend because it crosses the subfields¬†of computer science, everything from security in operating systems to scientific workflows on to database theory. In one day, I went from a¬†discussion on the role of indirection in data citation to staring at the C code of a database. Marta, Boris and Sarah really put together a solid program. There were about 60 attendees across the four days:


So what was I doing there? Having served as co-chair of the W3C PROV working group, I thought it was important to be at the PROV: Three years later event where we reflected on the status of PROV, it’s uptake and usage. I presented some ongoing work on measuring the usage of provenance on the web of data. ¬†Additionally, I gave the presentation of joint work led by¬†my student¬†Manolis Stamatogiannakis and done in conjunction with Ashish Gehani‘s group at SRI. The work focused on using benchmarks to help inform decisions on what provenance capture system to use. Slides:

I’ll now walk through my 3 big take aways from the event.

Provenance to attack Advanced Persistent Threats

DARPA’s $60 million transparent computing¬†explicitly calls out the use of provenance to address¬†the problem of what’s called an Advanced Persistent Threat (APTs). APTs are attacks that are long terms, look like standard business processes, and involve the attacker knowing the system well. This has led to a number of groups exploring the use of system level provenance capture techniques (e.g. SPADE and OPUS) and then integrating that from multiple distributed sources using PROV inspired data models. This was well described by David Archer is his talk as assembling multiple causal graphs from event streams. ¬†James Cheney’s talk on provenance segmentation¬†also addressed these issues well. This reminded me some what of the work on distributed provenance capture using structured logs that the Netlogger and Pegasus teams do, however, they leverage the structure of a workflow system to help with the assembly.

I particularly liked¬†Yang Ji,¬†Sangho Lee¬†and¬†¬†Wenke Lee‘s work on using user level record and replay to track and replay provenance. This builds upon¬†some of our work¬†that¬†used system level record replay as mechanism for separating provenance capture and instrumentation. But now in user space using the nifty rr¬†tool from Mozilla. I think this thread of being able to apply provenance instrumentation after the fact ¬†on an execution trace holds a lot of promise.

Overall, it’s great to see this level of attention on the use of provenance for security and in¬†more broadly of using long term records of provenance to do analysis.

PROV as the starting point

Given that this was the ten year anniversary of IPAW, it was appropriate that Luc Moreau gave one of the keynotes. As really one of the drivers of the community, Luc gave a review of the development of the community and its successes.One of those outcomes was the W3C PROV standards. 

Overall, it was nice to see the variety of uses of¬†PROV and the tools built around¬†it. It’s really become the jumping off point for exploration. For example, Pete Edwards team combined¬†PROV and a number of other ontologies including (P-Plan) to create a semantic representation of what’s going on within a professional kitchen in order to check food safety compliance.¬†


Another example is the use of PROV as a jumping off point for the investigation into the provenance model of HL7 FHIR (a new standard for electronic healthcare records interchange).

As whole, I think the attendees felt that what was missing was an active central point to see what was going on with PROV and pointers to resources for implementation. The aim is to make sure that the W3c PROV wiki is up-to-date and is a better resource overall.

Provenance as lens: Data Citation, Documents & Versioning

An interesting theme was the use of provenance concepts to give a frame for other practices. For example, Susan Davidson gave a great keynote on data citation and how using a variant of provenance polynomials can help us¬†understand how to automatically build citations for various parts of curated databases. The keynote was based off her work with James Frew and Peter Buneman that will appear in CACM (preprint). Another good example of provenance to support data citation was Nick Car’s work for Geoscience Australia.

Furthermore, the notion of provenance as the substructure for complex documents appeared several times. For example, the Impacts on Human  Health of Global Climate Change report from uses provenance as a backbone. Both the OPUS and PoeM systems are exploring using provenance to generate high-level experiment reports.

Finally, I thought David Koop‘s versioning of version trees showed how using¬†provenance as lens can help better understand versioning of version trees themselves. (I have to give David credit for presenting a super recursive concept so well).

Overall, another great event and I hope we can continue to attract new CS researchers focusing on provenance.

Random Notes

  • PROV in JSON-LD¬†– good for streaming
  • Theoretical provenance paper recipe = extend provenance polynomials to deal with new operators. Prove nice result. e.g. now for¬†Linear Algebra.
  • Prefixes! R-PROV, P-PROV, D-PROV, FS-PROV, SC-PROV, — let me know if I missed any..
  • Intel Secure Guard Extensions (SGX) – interesting
  • Surprised how dependent I’ve become on taking pictures in conferences for note taking. Not being able to really impacted my flow. Plus, there are less pictures for this
  • Thanks to¬†Adriane for hosting!
  • A provenance based data science environment
  • ūüĎćLearning Health Systems – from Vasa Curcin

Last week, I was a the Theory and Practice of Provenance 2015 (TaPP’15)¬†held in Edinburgh.¬†This is the seventh edition of the workshop. You can check out¬†my trip report from last year’s event which was held during Provenance week here.¬†TaPP’s aim is to be a venue for a place where people can present their early and innovative research ideas.

The event is useful because it brings a cross section of¬†researchers from different CS communities ranging from databases, programming language theory, distributed systems, to e-science and the semantic web. While it’s¬†nice to see¬†old friends at this event, one discussion that was had during the two days was how we can connect back in a stronger fashion to these larger communities especially as the interest in provenance increases within them.

I discuss the three themes¬†I pulled from the event but you can take a look at all of the papers online at the event’s site¬†and see what you think.

1. Execution traces as a core primitive

I was happy to be presenting on behalf of one of my students¬†Manolis Stamatogiannakis whose¬†been studying how to capture provenance of desktop systems using virtual machines and other technologies from the systems community. (He’s hanging out at SRI with Ashish Gehani for the summer so couldn’t make it.)¬†A key idea in the paper we presented was to separate the capture of an execution trace from the instrumentation needed to analyze provence (paper). The slides for the talk are embedded below:

The mechanism used to do this is a technology called record & replay (we use PANDA) but this notion of capturing a light weight execution trace and then replaying it deterministically is also popping up in other communities. For example, Boris Glavic has been using it successfully for database provenance in his work on GProM and reenactment queries. There he uses the audit logging and time travel features of modern databases (i.e. execution trace) to support rich provenance queries. 

This need to separate capture from queries was emphasized by David Gammack and Adriane Chapman work on trying to develop agent based models to figure out what instrumentation needs to be be applied in order to capture provenance. Until we can efficiently capture everything this is still going to be a stumbling block for completely provenance aware systems. I think that thinking about execution traces as a core primitive for provenance systems may be a way forward.

2. Workflow lessons in non-workflow environments

There are numerous benefits to using (scientific) workflow systems for computational experiments one of which is that it provides a good mechanism for capturing provenance in a declarative form. However, not all users can or will adopt workflow environments. Many use computational notebooks (e.g. Jupyter)  or just shell scripts. The YesWorkflow system (very inside community joke here) uses convention and a series of comments to help users produce a workflow and provenance structure from their scrips and file system (paper). Likewise, work on combining noWorkflow, a provenance tracking system for python, and iPython notebooks shows real promise (paper). This reminded me of the PROV-O-Matic work by Rinke Hoekstra.

Of course you can combine yesWorkflow and noWorkflow together into one big system.

Overall, I like the trend towards applying workflow concepts in-situ. It got me thinking about applying the scientific workflow results to the abstractions provided by Apache Spark. Just a hunch that this might be an interesting direction.

3. Completing the pipeline

The last theme I wanted to pull out is that I think we are inching towards being able to truly connect provenance generated by applications. My first example, is the work by Glavic and his students on importing and ingesting PROV-JSON into a database. This lets you query the provenance of query results but include information on the pipelines that got it there.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for ages with Marcin Wylot’s¬†work on TripleProv, I was a bit bummed that Boris got their first but I’m glad somebody did it ūüôā

The second example was the continued push forward for provenance in the systems community. In particular, the OPUS and SPADE systems, which I was aware off but now also the work on Linux Provenance Modules by Adam Bates that was introduced to me at TaPP. These all point to the ability to leverage key operating systems constructs to capture and manage provenance. For example, Adam showed how to make use of  mandatory access control policies to provide focused and complete capture of provenance for particular applications. 

I have high hopes here.

Random thoughts

To conclude I’ll end with some thoughts from the notebook.

I hope to see many familiar and new faces at next year’s Provenance Week (which combines TaPP and IPAW).

Welcome to a massive multimedia extravaganza trip report from Provenance Week held earlier this month June 9 -13.

Provenance Week brought together two workshops on provenance plus several co-located events. It had roughly 65 participants. It’s not a huge event¬†but it’s a pivotal one for me as it brings¬†together all the core researchers working on provenance from a range of computer science disciplines. That means you hear the latest research on the topic ranging from great deployments of provenance systems to the newest ideas on theoretical properties of provenance. Here’s a picture of the whole crew:

Given that I’m deeply involved in the community, it’s going to be hard to summarize everything of interest because…well…everything was of interest, it also means I¬†had a lot of stuff going on. So what was I doing there?



PROV Tutorial

Together with Luc Moreau and Trung Dong Huynh, I kicked off the week with a tutorial on the W3C PROV provenance model. The tutorial was based on my recent book with Luc. From my count, we had ~30 participants for the tutorial.

We’ve given tutorials in the past on PROV but we made a number of updates as PROV is becoming more mature. First, as the audience had a more diverse technical background we came from a conceptual model (UML) point of view instead of starting with a Semantic Web perspective. Furthermore, we presented both tools and recipes for using PROV. The number of tools we now have out for PROV is growing – ranging from ¬†conversion of PROV from various version control systems to neuroimaging¬†workflow pipelines that support PROV.

I think the hit of the show was Dong’s demonstration of interacting with PROV using his Prov¬†python module¬†(pypi) and Southampton’s Prov¬†Store.

Papers & Posters

I had two papers in the main track of the International Provenance and Annotation Workshop (IPAW) as well as a demo and a poster.

Manolis Stamatogiannakis presented his work with me and Herbert Bos –¬†Looking Inside the Black-Box: Capturing Data Provenance using Dynamic Instrumentation¬†. In this work, we looked at¬†applying dynamic binary taint tracking to capture high-fidelity provenance on ¬†desktop systems. This work solves what’s known as the n-by-m problem in provenance systems. Essentially, it allows us to see how data flows within an application without having to instrument that application up-front. This lets us know exactly which output of a program is connected to which¬†inputs. The work was well received and we had a bunch of different questions both around speed of the approach and whether we can track high-level application semantics. A demo video is below and you can find all the source code on github.

We also presented our work on converting PROV graphs to IPython notebooks for creating scientific documentation (Generating Scientific Documentation for Computational Experiments Using Provenance). Here we looked at how to try and create documentation from provenance that is gathered in a distributed setting and put that together in easy to use fashion. This work was part of a larger kind of discussion at the event on the connection between provenance gathered in these popular notebook environments and that gathered on more heterogeneous systems. Source code again on github.

I presented a poster on our (with Marcin Wylot and Philippe Cudr√©-Mauroux) recent work on instrumenting a triple store (i.e. graph database) with provenance. ¬†We use a long standing technique provenance polynomials from the database community but applied for large scale RDF graphs. It was good to be able to present this to those from database community that we’re at the conference. I got some good feedback, in particular, on some¬†efficiencies we might implement.


I also demoed (see above) the really awesome work by Rinke Hoekstra on his PROV-O-Viz provenance visualization service. (Paper, Code) . This was a real hit with a number of people wanting to integrate this with their provenance tools.

Provenance Reconstruction + ProvBench

At the end of the week, we¬†co-organized with the ProvBench folks¬†an¬†afternoon about challenge tasks and benchmark datasets. In particular, we looked at the challenge of provenance reconstruction – how do you recreate¬†provenance from data when you didn’t track it in the first place. Together with Tom De Nies¬†we¬†¬†produced a number of datasets for use with this task. It was pretty cool to see that¬†Hazeline Asuncion¬†used these data sets in one of her classes where her students used a wide variety of off the shelf methods.

From the performance scores, precision was ok but very dataset dependent and relies on a lot on knowledge of the domain. We’ll be working with Hazeline to look at defining different aspects this problem going forward.

Provenance reconstruction is just one task where we need datasets. ProvBench is focused on gathering those datasets and also defining new challenge tasks to go with them.¬†Checkout this github¬†for a number of datasets. The PROV standard is also making it easier to consume benchmark datasets because you don’t need to write a new parser to get a hold of the data. The dataset I most liked was the Provenance Capture Disparities dataset from the¬†Mitre crew¬†(paper). They provide a gold standard provenance dataset capturing everything that¬†goes on in a desktop environment, plus, two different provenance traces from different kinds of capture systems. This is great for testing both provenance reconstruction but also looking how to merge independent capture sources to achieve a full picture of provenance.

There is also a nice tool to covert Wikipedia edit histories to PROV.


I think I picked out four large themes from provenance week.

  1. Transparent collection
  2. Provenance aggregation, slicing and dicing
  3. Provenance across sources

Transparent Collection

One issue with provenance systems is getting people to install provenance collection systems in the first place let alone installing new modified provenance-aware applications. A number of papers reported on techniques aimed to make it easier to capture more transparent.

A couple of approaches tackled this for the programming languages.¬†One system¬†focused on R (RDataTracker) and the other python (noWorkflow). I particularly enjoyed the noWorkflow python system as they provided not only transparent capture for provenance systems but a number of utilities for¬†working with the captured provenance. Including a diff tool and a conversion from provenance to Prolog rules (I hope Jan reads this). The prolog conversion includes rules that allow for provenance specific queries to be formulated. (On Github). noWorkflow¬†is similar to Rinke’s PROV-O-Matic tool for tracking provenance in python (see video below). I hope we can look into sharing work on a really good python provenance solution.

An interesting discussion point that arose from this work was Рhow much we should expose provenance to the user? Indeed, the team that did RDataTracker specifically inserted simple on/off statements in their system so the scientific user  could control the capture process in their R scripts.

Tracking provenance by instrumenting the operating system level has long been an approach to provenance capture. Here, we saw a couple of techniques that tried to reduce that tracking to simply launching¬†a system background process in user space while improving the fidelity of provenance. This was the approach of our system Data Tracker and Cambridge’s¬†OPUS (specific challenges in dealing with interposition on the std lib were¬†discussed). ¬†Ashish Gehani was nice enough to work with me to get his SPADE system¬†setup on my mac. ¬†It was pretty much just a checkout, build, and run to start capturing reasonable provenance right away – cool.

Databases have consistently been a central place for provenance research. ¬†I was impressed¬† Boris Glavic’s vision (paper) of a completely transparent way to report¬†provenance for database systems by leveraging two common database functions – time travel and an audit log. Essentially, through the use of query rewriting and query replay he’s able to capture/report provenance for database query results. Talking to Boris, they have a lot it implemented already in collaboration with Oracle. Based on prior history (PostgresSQL with provenance), I bet it¬†will happen shortly. ¬†What’s interesting is that his approach requires no modification of the database and instead sits as middleware above the database.

Finally, in the discussion session after the Tapp practice session, I asked the presenters who represented the range of these systems to ballpark what kind of overhead they saw for capturing provenance. The conclusion was that we could get between 1% Р15% overhead. In particular, for deterministic replay style systems you can really press down the overhead at capture time.

Provenance  aggregation, slicing and dicing

I think Susan Davidson said it best in her presentation on provenance for crowdsourcing ¬†– we are at the OLAP stage of provenance. How do we make it easy to combine, recombine, summarize, and work with provenance. What kind of operators, systems, and algorithms do we need? Two interesting applications came to the fore for this kind of need – crowdsourcing and security. Susan’s talk exemplified this but¬†at the Provenance Analytics event there were several other examples (Huynh¬†et al., Dragon et al).

The other area was security.¬†¬†Roly Perera ¬†presented his impressive work with James Cheney on cataloging various mechanisms for transforming provenance graphs for the purposes of obfuscating or hiding sensitive parts of the provenance graph. This paper is great reference material for various mechanisms to deal with provenance summarization. One technique for summarization that came up several times in particular with respect to this domain was the use of annotation propagation through provenance graphs (e.g. see ProvAbs by Missier et al. and work by Moreau’s team.)

Provenance across sources

The final theme I saw was how to connect provenance across sources. One could also call this provenance integration. Both Chapman and the Mitre crew with their ¬†Provenance¬†Plus tracking system¬†¬†and Ashish with his SPADE system are experiencing¬†this problem of provenance coming from multiple different sources and needing to integrate these sources to get a complete picture of provenance both within a system and spanning multiple systems. I don’t think we have a solution yet but they both (ashish, chapman) articulated the problem well and have some good initial results.

This is not just a systems problem, it’s fundamental that provenance extends across systems. Two of the cool use cases I saw exemplified the need to track provenance across multiple sources.

The Kiel Center for Marine Science (GEOMAR)  has developed a provenance system to track their data throughout their entire organization stemming from data collected on their boats all the way through a data publication. Yes you read that right, provenance gathered on awesome boats!  This invokes digital pens, workflow systems and data management systems.

The other was the the recently released US National Climate Change Assessment. The findings of that report stem from 13 different institutions within the US Government. The data backing those findings is represented in a structured fashion including the use of PROV. Curt Tilmes presented more about this amazing use case at Provenance Analytics.

In many ways, the W3C PROV standard was created to help solve these issues. I think it does help but having a common representation is just the start.

Final thoughts

I didn’t mention it but I was heartened to see that community has taken to using PROV as a mechanism for¬†interchanging data and for having discussions. ¬†My feeling is that if you can talk provenance polynomials and PROV graphs, you can speak with pretty much anybody in¬†the provenance community no matter which “home” they have – whether systems, databases, scientific workflows, or the semantic web. ¬†Indeed, this is one of the great things about provenance week, is that one was able to see diverse perspectives on this cross cutting concern of provenance.

Lastly, there seemed to many good¬†answers at provenance week but more importantly lots of good questions. Now, I think as a community we should really expose more of the problems we’ve found to a wider audience.

Random Notes

  • It¬†was great to see the interaction between a number¬†of different services supporting PROV (e.g., prizims¬†, prov-o-viz,¬†prov store, ¬†prov-pings, PLUS)
  • ProvBench on datahub – thanks Tim
  • DLR did a fantastic job of organizing. Great job Carina, Laura and Andreas!
  • I’ve never had happy birthday¬†sung to me at by 60 people at a conference dinner – surprisingly in tune –¬†K√∂lsch is pretty effective. Thanks everyone!
  • Stefan Woltran’s keynote on argumentation theory was pretty cool. Really stepped up to the plate to give a theory keynote the night after the conference dinner.
  • Speaking of theory, I still need to get my head around Bertram’s work on Provenance Games. It looks like a neat way to think about the semantics of provenance.
  • Check out Daniel’s trip report on provenance week.
  • I think this is long enough…..

Yesterday, Luc (my coauthor) and I¬†received¬†our physical copies of Provenance: An Introduction to PROV in the mail. Even though the book is primarily designed to be distributed digitally – it’s always great actually holding a copy in your hands. You can now order your own physical copy on¬†Amazon. The Amazon page for the book there also includes the ability to look inside the book.

booksonshelf Prov Book Cover

Cross-posted from

coffe from the worldThe rise of Fair Trade food and other products has been amazing over the past 4 years. Indeed, it’s great to see how certification for the origins (and production processes) of products ¬†is becoming both prevalent and expected. For me, it’s nice to know where my morning coffee was grown and indeed knowing that lets me figure out the quality of the coffee (is it single origin or a blend?).

I now think it’s time that we do the same for data. As we work in environments where our data is aggregated from multiple sources and processed along complex digital supply chains, we need the same sort of “fair trade” style certificate for our data. I want to know that my data was grown and nurtured and treated with care and it would be great to have a stamp that lets me understand that with a glance without having to a lot of complex digging.

In a just published commentary in IEEE Internet Computing, I go into a bit more detail about how provenance and linked data technologies are laying the ground work for fair trade data. Take a look and let me know what you think.



I just received 50 copies of this in the mail today:

Literature is so much better in its electronic form but its still fun to get a physical copy. Most importantly, this proceedings represents scientific content and a scientific community that I’m proud to be be part of. You can obviously access the full proceedings online. Preprints are also available from most of the author’s sites. You can also read my summary of the 4th International Provenance and Annotation Workshop (IPAW 2012) .

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