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I had the pleasure of attending the Web Conference 2018 in Lyon last week along with my colleague Corey Harper . This is the 27th addition of the largest conference on the World Wide Web. I have tremendous difficulty  not calling it WWW but I’ll learn! Instead of doing two trip reports the rest of this is a combo of Corey and my thoughts. Before getting to what we took away as main themes of the conference let’s look at the stats and organization:

It’s also worth pointing out that this is just the research track. There were 27 workshops,  21 tutorials, 30 demos (Paul was co-chair), 62 posters, four collocated conferences/events, 4 challenges, a developer track and programming track, a project track, an industry track, and… We are probably missing something as well. Suffice to say, even with the best work of the organizers it was hard to figure out what to see. Organizing an event with 2200+ attendees is a thing is a massive task – over 80 chairs were involved not to mention the PC and the local heavy lifting. Congrats to Fabien, Pierre-Antoine, Lionel and the whole committee for pulling it off.  It’s also great to see as well that the proceedings are open access and available on the web.

Given the breadth of the conference, we obviously couldn’t see everything but from our interests we pulled out the following themes:

  • Dealing with a Polluted Web
  • Tackling Tabular Data
  • Observational Methods
  • Scientific Content as a Driver

Dealing with a Polluted Web

The Web community is really owning it’s responsibility to help mitigate the destructive uses to which the Web is put. From the “Recoding Black Mirror” workshop, which we were sad to miss, through the opening keynote and the tracks on Security and Privacy and Fact Checking, this was a major topic throughout the conference.

Oxford professor Luciano Floridi gave an excellent first keynote  on “The Good Web” which addressed this topic head on. He introduced a number of nice metaphors to describe what’s going on:

  • Polluting agents in the Web ecosystem are like extremphiles, making the environment hostile to all but themselves
  • Democracy in some contexts can be like antibiotics: too much gives growth to antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • His takeaway is that we need a bit of paternalism in this context now.

His talk was pretty compelling,  you can check out the full video here.

Additionally, Corey was able to attend the panel discussion that opened the “Journalism, Misinformation, and Fact-Checking” track, which included representation from the Credibility Coalition, the International Fact Checking Network, MIT, and WikiMedia. There was a discussion of how to set up economies of trust in the age of attention economies, and while some panelists agreed with Floridi’s call for some paternalism, there was also a warning that some techniques we might deploy to mitigate these risks could lead to “accidental authoritarianism.” The Credibility Coalition also provided an interesting review of how to define credibility indicators for news looking at over 16 indicators of credibility.

We were able to see parts of the “Web and Society track”, which included a number of papers related to social justice oriented themes. This included an excellent paper that showed how recommender systems in social networks often exacerbate and amplify gender and racial disparity in social network connections and engagement. Additionally, many papers addressed the relationship between the mainstream media and the web. (e.g. political polarization and social media, media and public attention using the web).

Some more examples: The best demo was awarded to a system that automatically analyzed privacy policies of websites and summarized them with respect to GDPR and:

More generally, it seems the question is how do we achieve quality assessment at scale?

Tackling Tabular Data

Knowledge graphs and heterogenous networks (there was a workshop on that) were a big part of the conference. Indeed the test of time paper award went to the original Yago paper. There were a number of talks about improving knowledge graphs for example for improving on question answering tasks, determining attributes that are needed to complete a KG or improving relation extraction. While tables have always been an input to knowledge graph construction (e.g. wikpedia infoboxes), an interesting turn was towards treating tabular data as a focus area.

As Natasha Noy from Google noted in her  keynote at the SAVE-SD workshop,  this is an area with a number of exciting research challenges:img_0034_google_savesd.jpg

There was a workshop on data search with a number of papers on the theme. In that workshop, Maarten de Rijke gave a keynote on the work his team has been doing in the context of data search project with Elsevier.

In the main track, there was an excellent talk on Ad-Hoc Table Retrieval using Semantic Similarity. They looked at finding semantically central columns to provide a rank list of columns. More broadly they are looking at spreadsheet compilation as the task (see smarttables.cc and the dataset for that task.) Furthermore, the paper Towards Annotating Relational Data on the Web with Language Models looked at enriching tables through linking into a knowledge graph.

Observational Methods

Observing  user behavior has been a part of research on the Web, any web search engine is driven by that notion. What did seem to be striking is the depth of the observational data being employed. Prof. Lorrie Cranor gave an excellent keynote on the user experience of web security (video here). Did you know that if you read all the privacy policies of all the sites you visit it wold take 244 hours per year? Also, the idea of privacy as nutrition labels is pretty cool:

But what was interesting was her labs use of an observatory of 200 participants who allowed their Windows home computers to be instrumented. This kind of instrumentation gives deep insight into how users actually use their browsers and security settings.

Another example of deep observational data, was the use of mouse tracking on search result pages to detect how people search under anxiety conditions:

In the paper by Wei Sui and co-authors on Computational Creative Advertisements presented at the HumL workshop – they use in-home facial and video tracking to measure emotional response to ads by volunteers.

The final example was the use of FMRI scans to track brain activity of participants during web search tasks. All these examples provide amazing insights into how people use these technologies but as these sorts of methods are more broadly adopted, we need to make sure to adopt the kinds of safe-guards adopted by these researchers – e.g. consent, IRBs, anonymization.

Scientific Content as a Driver

It’s probably our bias but we saw a lot of work tackling scientific content. Probably because it’s both interesting and provides a number of challenges. For example, the best paper of the conference (HighLife) was about extracting n-ary relations for knowledge graph construction motivated by the need for such types of relations in creating biomedical knowledge graphs. The aforementioned work on tabular data often is motivated by the needs of research. Obviously SAVE-SD covered this in detail:

In the demo track, the etymo.io search engine was presented to summarize and visualization of scientific papers. Kuansan Wang at the BigNet workshop talked about Microsoft Academic Search and the difficulties and opportunities in processing so much scientific data.

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Paul gave a keynote at the same workshop also using science as the motivation for new methods for building out knowledge graphs. Slides below:

In the panel, Structured Data on the Web 7.0, Google’s Evgeniy Gabrilovich – creator of the Knowledge Vote – noted the challenges of getting highly correct data for Google’s Medical Knowledge graph and that doing this automatically is still difficult.

Finally, using DOIs for studying persistent identifier use over time on the Web.

Wrap-up

Overall, we had a fantastic web conference. Good research, good conversations and good food:

Random Thoughts

 

Last week, I was in Japan for the 15th International Semantic Web Conference. 

For me, this was a big event as I was research track program co-chair together with the amazing Elena Simperl. Being a program chair is a funny thing, you’re not directly responsible for any individual paper, presentation or review but you feel responsible for the entirety. And obviously, organizing 664 reviews for 212 submissions isn’t something to be taken lightly. Beyond my service as research track chair, I think my main contribution was finding good coffee near the event:

With all that said, I think the entire program was really solid. All the preprints are on the website and the proceedings are available from Springer. I’ll try to summarize my main takeaways below. But first some quick stats:

  • 430 participants
  • 212 (research track) + 43 (application track) + 71 (resources track) = 326 submissions
    • that’s up by 61 submission from last year!
  • Acceptance rates:
    • 39/212  =  18% (research track)
    • 12/43 = 28% (application track)
    • 24/71 = 34%  (resources track)
    • I think these reflect the aims of the individual tracks
  • We also had 102 posters and demos and 12 journal track papers
  • 35 student travel winners

My three main takeaways:

  1. Frames are back!
  2. semantics on the web (notice the case)
  3. Science as the next challenge
  4. SPARQL as a driver for other CS communities

(Oh and apologies for the gratuitous use of images and twitter embeds)

Frames are back!

For the past couple of years, a chunk of the community has been focused on the problem of entity resolution/disambiguation whether that’s from text to a KB or across multiple KBs. Indeed, one of the best paper winners (yes, we gave out two – both nominees had great papers) by ISI’s Information Integration Group was an excellent approach to do multi-type entity resolution.  Likewise, Axel and crew gave a pretty heavy duty tutorial on link discovery. On the NLP front, Stefano Faralli presented a nice resource that disambiguates text to lexical resources with a focus on providing both symbolic and distributional representations .

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What struck me at the conference were the number of papers beginning to think not just about entities and their relations but the context they are in. This need for context was well motivated by the folks at IBM research working on medical question answering.

Essentially, thinking about classic AI frames but how do obtain these automatically. A clear example of this is the (ongoing) work on FRED:

Similarly, the News Reader system for extracting information into situated events is another example. Another example is extracting process graphs from medical texts. Finally, in the NLP community there’s an increasing focus on developing resources in order to build automated parsers for frame-style semantic representations (e.g. Abstract Meaning Representation). Such representations can be enhanced by connections to semantic web resources as discussed by Burns et al. (I knew this was a great idea in 2015!)

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In summary,  I think we’re beginning to see how the background knowledge available on the Semantic Web combined with better parsers can help us start to deal better with context in an automated fashion.

semantics on the web

Chris Bizer gave an insightful keynote reflecting on what the community’s expectations were for the semantic web and where we currently are at.

He presented stats on the growth of Linked Data (e.g. stuff in the LOD cloud) as well as web data (e.g. schema.org marked pages) but really the main take away is the boom in the later. About 30% of the Web has html embedded data something like 12 million websites.  There’s an 86% adoption rate on top travel website.  I think the choice quote was:

“Probably, every hotel on earth is represented as web data.”

The problem is that this sort of data is not clean, it’s messy – it’s webby data, which brings to Chris’s important point for the community:

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While standards have brought us a lot, I think we are starting as a research community to think increasingly about different kinds of semantics and different kinds of structured data.  Some examples from the conference:

An embrace of the whole spectrum of semantics on the web is really a valuable move for the research community. Interestingly enough, I think we can truly experiment with web data through things like Common Crawl and the Web Data Commons. As knowledge graphs, triple stores, and ontologies become increasingly common place especially in enterprise deployments, I’m heartened by these new areas of investigation.

The next challenge: Science

Personally, the third keynote of ISWC by Professor Hiroaki Kitano – the CEO of Sony CSL and creator among other things of the AIBO and founder of RoboCup gave a inspirational speech laying out what he sees as the next AI grand challenge:

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It will be hard for me to do justice to the keynote as the material per second ratio was pretty much off the chart but he has AI magazine article laying out the vision.

Broadly, he used RoboCup as a framework for discussing how to organize a challenge and pointed to its effectiveness. (e.g Kiva systems a RoboCup spinout was acquired by Amazon for $770 million). He then focused on the issue of the inefficiency in scientific discovery and in particular how assembling knowledge is just too difficult.

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Assembling this by hand is way too hard!

He then went on to reframe the scientific question as one of a massive search and verification of hypothesis space. 2016-10-21 09.52.29.jpg

I walked out of that keynote pretty charged up.

I think the semantic web community can be a big part of tackling this grand challenge. Science and medicine have always been important domains for applying these technologies and that showed up at this conference as well:

SPARQL as a driver for other CS communities

The 10 year award was given to  Jorge Perez , Marcelo Arenas and Claudio Gutierrez for their paper Semantics and Complexity of SPARQL. Jorge gave just a beautiful 10 minute reflection on the paper and the relationship between theory and practice. I think his slide below really sums up the impact that SPARQL has had not just on the semantic web community but CS as a whole:

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As further evidence, I thought one of the best technical talks of the conference (even through an earthquake) was by Peter Bonz on emergent schemas for RDF querying.

It was a clear example of how the two DB and semweb communities are learning from one another and that by the semantic web having different requirements (e.g. around schemas), this drives new research.

As a whole, it’s hard to beat a conference where you learn a ton and has the following:

2016-10-19 10.52.15.jpg

Random Pointers

Last week I was in Florence Italy for the 23rd International World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2015). This is the leading computer science conference focused on web technology writ large. It’s a big conference – 1400 attendees this year. WWW is excellent for getting a good bearing on the latest across multiple subfields in computer science. Another way to say it is that I run into friends from the semantic web community, NLP community, data mining community, web standards community, the scholarly communication community, etc.. I think on the Tuesday night I traversed four different venues hanging out with various groups.

This is the first time since 2010 that I attended WWW. It was good to be back. I was there the entire week so there was a ton but I’ll try to boil what I saw down into 3 takeaways. But first…

What was I doing there?

First, was that I co-authored a research track paper with Marcin Wylot and Philippe Cudré-Mauroux of the eXascale Infolab (cool name) on Executing Provenance Queries over Web Data (slides, paper). We showed that because of the highly selective nature of provenance on the web of data, we can actually improve query performance within a triple store. I was super happy to have this accepted given the ~14%! acceptance rate.

Second, I gave the opening talk of the Semantics, Analytics, Visualisation: Enhancing Scholarly Data (SAVE-SD) workshop. I discussed the current state of scholarly productivity and used the notion of the burden of knowledge as a motivation for knowledge graphs as a mechanism to help increase that productivity. I even went web for my slides.

Continuing on the theme of knowledge graphs, I participated on a panel in the industry track around knowledge graphs. More thoughts on this coming up.

Knowledge graph panel www

The Takeaways

From my perspective there were three core takeaways:

  1. Knowledge Graphs/Bases everywhere
  2. Assume the Web
  3. Scholarly applications are interesting applications

1. Knowledge Graphs/Bases everywhere

I could call this Entities everywhere. Perhaps, it was the sessions I chose to attend but it felt like when I was at the conference in 2010 where every other paper was about online advertising. There were a ton of papers on entity linking, entity disambiguation, entity (etc.) many others had knowledge base construction as a motivation.

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There were two tutorials on knowledge graphs both of them were full and the one from Google/Facebook involved moving to a completely new room. Both were excellent. The one from the Yago team has really good material.  As a side note, it was interesting to sit-in on tutorials where I already have a decent handle on the material. It let me compare my own intellectual framework for the material and others out there. For example, I liked the Yago tutorial’s distinction between source-centric and yield-centric information extraction and how we pursue the yield approach when doing automated knowledge base construction. A recommended exercise for the reader.

Beyond just being a plethora of stuff, I think our panel discussion highlighted themes that appeared across several papers.

Dealing with long tail entities
In general, approaches to knowledge base construction have relied on well known entities (e.g. wikipedia) and frequency (you’re mentioned a lot, you’re an entity). For many domain specific entities, for example in science, and also emergent entities this is a challenge. A number of authors tried to tackle this by:

  • looking at web page titles as a potential data source for entities (Song et al.)
  • use particular types of web tables to help assign entities to classes (Wang et al.)
  • use social context help entity extraction (Jie Tang et al. )
  • discover new meta relations between entities (Meng et al.)

Quality
All the organizations on the industry panel spend significant resources on quality maintenance of their knowledge graphs. The question here is how to best decrease the amount of human input and increase automation.

An interesting example that was talked about quite frequently is the move of Freebase to Wikidata. Wikidata runs under the same guidelines as Wikipedia so all facts need to have claims grounded in sources from the Web. Well it turns out this is difficult because many facts are sourced from Wikipedia itself. This kind of dare I say it provenance is really important. Most current large scale knowledge graphs support provenance but as we automate more it would be nice to be able to automatically judge these sources using that provenance.

One paper that I saw that addressed quality issues this was GERBIL – General Entity Annotator Benchmarking Framework. This 25 author paper! devised a common framework for testing entity linking tools. It’s great to see the community looking at these sorts of common QA frameworks.

Multimedia
This seemed to be bubbling up. On the panel, the company Tagasauris was looking at constructing a mediaGraph by analyzing video content. During the Yago tutorial, the presenters mentioned potential future work on extracting common sense knowledge by looking at videos. In general, both extraction of facts from multimedia but also using knowledge graphs to understand multimedia seems like a challenging but fruitful area. One particular example was the paper “Tagging Personal Photos with Transfer Deep Learning”. What was cool was the injection of a personal photo ontology into the training of the network as priors. This led to both better results but probably more impotently decreased the training time. Another example is the work from Gerhard Weikum’s group on extracting knowledge from movie scripts. 

Finally, as I commented at the Linked Data on the Web Workshop, the growth of knowledge graphs is a triumph of the semantic web and linked data. Making knowledge bases open and available on the Web using reusable schemes has really been a boon to the area.

2. Assume the Web

It’s obvious but is worth repeating: the web is really big!

These stats were from Andrei Broder’s excellent keynote. The size of the web motivates the need for better web technology (e.g. search) and as that improves so do our expectations. Broder called out three axes of progress

  1. scaling up with quality
  2. faster response
  3. higher functionality levels

We progress on all these dimensions. But the scale of the web doesn’t just change the technology we need to develop but it changes our methods.

For example, a paper I liked a lot was “Leveraging Pattern Semantics for Extracting Entities in Enterprises”. This bares resembles towards problems we face extracting entities that are not found on the web because there only mentioned within a private environment (e.g. internal product names). But even in this environment they rely on the Web. They rank semantic patterns they extract by using relations extracted from the web.

For me, it means that even if the application isn’t necessarily for “the web”, I should think about the web as a potential part of the solution.

3 Scholarly applications are interesting applications

I’m biased, but I think scholarly applications are particularly interesting and you saw that at WWW. I attended two workshops dealing with technology and scholarship. SAVE-SD and Big Scholar. I was particularly impressed with the scholarly knowledge graph that’s being built on-top of the Bing Satori Knowledge Graph, which covers venues, authors, papers, and organizations from 100 million papers. (It seems there are probably 120 million total on the web.) At their demo they showed some awesome queries that you can do like:  “papers on multiple sclerosis citing artificial intelligence” Another example is venues appearing in the side of bing searches with related venues, due dates, etc:

See Kuansan Wang’s (@kuansanw) talk for more info (slides). As far as I understand, MSR will also be releasing the Microsoft Academic Graph for experimentation in a couple of weeks. Based on this graph MSR is co-organizing with Antonio Gulli from Elsevier the WSDM Cup in 2016

It was a pleasure to meet C. Lee Giles of CiteSeerX. It was good seeing an overview of that system and he had some good pointers (e.g. GROBID for metadata extraction and ParsCit for citation extraction).

From SAVE-SD there were two papers that caught my eye:

There were also a number of main track papers that applied methods to scholarly content.

Overall, WWW 2015 was a huge event so this trip report really is just what I could touch. I didn’t even get the chance to go to the W3C sessions and Web Science talks. You can check out all the proceedings here, definitely worth a look.

Random thoughts

  • The web isn’t scale free – it’s log-log. Gotta check out Clauset et al 2009, Power-law distributions in empirical data
  • If you’re a researcher remember that Broder’s “A taxonomy of web search” – was originally rejected from WWW 2002, it now has 1700+ citations.
  • Aidan Hogan + 1 for colorful slides and showing that we need to just deal with blank nodes and not get so hung up about it.  (paper, code)
  • If you do machine learning, do your parameter studies. Most papers had them.
  • PROV and information diffusion combined. So awesome.
  • Ah conference internet… It’s always hard.
  • People are hiring like crazy. Booths from Baidu, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn. Oh, and never discount how frisbee’s can motivate highly educated geeks.
  • On the hiring note, I liked how the companies listed their attendees and their talks.
  • Tons and tons of talks with authors from companies. I should really do some stats. It was like every paper.
  • Italy, food, florentine steak – yummy!
  • Corollary, running is necessary but running in Florence is beautiful. Head by the Duomo across the river and up through the gardens.
  • What you can do with four square data:  2015-05-21 11.27.11
  • Larry and Sergei won the test of time award. 
  • Gotta ask the folks at Insight about their distributional semantics work.

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