I’ve just returned from the World Wide Web 2012 conference at Lyon, where I attended two workshops related to my research: “Making Sense of Microposts” and “Social Web for Disaster Management”. Both workshops had interestings talks and discusssions, and I thought I’d share the highlights here. Bear in mind that the selection of papers and any comments are very much biased towards geographic information….

The World Wide Web Conference is one of the biggest events related to The Internet ™, and participants include researchers and developers from academia and industry, many of them with a background in computer science. In this respect, it attrachts a slightly different community than I am used to – this fact, coupled with two workshops thematically closely linked to our exploratory research project “Engaging the Citizens in Forest Fire Risk and Impact Assessment”, promised a good opportunity to expand knowledge and discuss the state-of-the-art in related disciplines.

The first full-day workshop, “Making Sense of Microposts”, set out to examine “information extraction and leveraging of semantics from microposts, with a focus on novel methods for handling the particular challenges due to enforced brevity of expression; making use of the collective knowledge encoded in microposts’ semantics in innovative ways; social and enterprise studies that guide the design of appealing and usable new systems based on this type of data, by leveraging Semantic Web technologies.”

Highlights included the keynote presentation by Greg Ver Steeg (Information Sciences Institute, University of Southern California) on “Information Theoretic Tools for Social Media”, in which the presenter showed how concepts like “information transfer” and “information entropy” can be used to explain past and predict future user behaviour, or identify spam accounts. Another paper by David de Castro Reis (Google Engineering, Brazil) et al. looked at the problem from a slightly different angle than usual: Instead of trying to give a micro post some context and thus understand its topicality, they presented an approach to identify unambiguous keywords for search queries, which is applicable to the problem of high noise ratio encountered in our exploratory research. Unfortunately, it’s based on access to Google search query logs… Simon Scerri from the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (National University of Ireland) introduced a “Personal Information Model” based on a concise ontology (DLPO), which would facilitate the integration of various heterogeneous information sources. Finally, Te Kao (Web Information Systems, Technical University Delft) presented a system that assesses the relevance of Tweets for a specific topic based on syntactical, semantic and contextual features. While there are some similarities to what we have developed, the differences in approach (such as the lack of geographic context proposed by us) encourage further discussion, which I hope to be able to initiate soon.

The second workshop attended by me, “Social Web for Disaster Management”, attempted ” to bring together researchers and practitioners who are interested in employing data from the social Web for disaster management.” With this objective, it is thematically very close to the exploratory research project, but drew its audience from a different community. The first talk by Cindy Hui (Rutgers University) presented a case study examining the spread of information through an emergency at the university. What’s still missing, IMHO, is to examine the spread of the actual informatino bits (i.e. what, where, who). Liam McNamara (Uppsala University) mined conversations from users changing their geographic location, with the aim of finding out how users communicated about their changing surroundings. The corpus used included only Tweets already geo-coded, thus potentially not using a representative sample. An important aspect of using social media during crisis events would be to detect the changing nature of events, an issue the paper “Automatic Sub-Event Detection in Emergency Management Using Social Media” by Daniela Pohl (Klagenfurt University) addressed. However, again the geographic nature and extent of (crisis) events was under-represented. A research group from CSIRO (Australia) presented their system for increasing “Emergency Situation Awareness from Twitter for Crisis Management”, which bears some similarities to the approach developed at the JRC. Another confirmation for the JRC approach came from the work of Julie Dugdale (University of Grenoble 2), who presented results from interviewing the crisis responders and relief workers from the Haiti 2010 earthquake. The main finding was that individual distress messages were highly likely to be (unintentionally) wrong, but an aggregated view of all the incoming information helped the crisis responders to make right decisions.

All in all, it was a rewarding trip to Lyon (big thanks to the organizers of the workshops!), last but not least because of one the nicest public parks I have seen so far:

The Parc de la TĂȘte d’Or, which was situated between my hotel and the convention center, and features a large lake, botanical gardens, small zoo, velodrome, etc. etc., allowing for a refreshing walk before and after a day full of ideas.