I am an assistant professor (UD) at the Web & Media group at the Computer Science department of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). I am also a senior research fellow at Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. In my research, I combine (Semantic) Web technologies with Human-Computer Interaction, Knowledge Representation and Information Extraction to tackle research challenges in various domains. These include Cultural Heritage, Digital Humanities and ICT for Development (ICT4D). More information on these projects can be found on this site or through my CV .

VU’s 4th ICT4D symposium: a look back

Yesterday, 18 May 2017, the 4th International ICT4D symposium was held at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.  The event was organized by the W4RA team and supported by VU Network Institute, the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems SIKS, VU Computer Science Department and VU International Office. Invited speakers from Ghana, France and the Netherlands highlighted this year’s theme was “Sustainability and ICT4D”.

Keynote speaker Gayo Diallo from Universite de Bordeaux discussed the possibilities of ICT for African Traditional Medicine (ATM). In his talk, he showed how semantic web technologies can play a role here to connect heterogeneous datasets for analytics and end-user services. Such services would need to be based on voice-interaction and localized technologies. His slides can be found here.

Chris van Aart from 2Coolmonkeys discussed a number of smartphone applications developed in the context of W4RA activities, including Mr. Jiri a tree-counting application. He proved there is a market for such applications in the African context (Slides).

After the break, Francis Dittoh from UDS Ghana discussed issues around sustainbility for a meteo application he is currently developing for Northern-Ghana (slides). Wendelien Tuijp from VU’s CIS then presented multiple perspectives on ICT4D (Slides). The symposium was closed by a video presentation from Aske Robenhagen, showcasing the ongoing work in Nepal around mapping knowledge networks and developing a smartphone application supporting information exchange for local accountability extension workers. More information on that project can be found at nepalnetworks.org/

The presentations of the day can be found through the links above. The entire symposium was live-streamed and you can watch it all on youtube or below.

Below is a lost of the approximate starting time of the various speakers in the video

  • 6m19 Dr. Gayo Diallo – Université de Bordeaux (FR): Towards a Digital African Traditional Healthcare using Semantic Web.
  • 56m28 Dr. Chris van Aart – 2CoolMonkeys BV (NL) : Developing Smartphone Apps for African farmers.
  • 1h30m00 break.
  • 1h52m00 Francis Dittoh – University for Development Studies (Ghana): ICT business development in rural Africa.
  • 2h23m00 Wendelien Tuyp – CIS-VU : Sustainable Community Initiatives and African Farmer Innovation.
  • 2h52m00 Aske Robenhagen Network Institute Academy Assistant VU – Building resilient applications for sustainable development. Better video of this can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hzRSo4TJtA

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Big Data Europe Platform paper at ICWE 2017

With the launch of the Big Data Europe platform behind us, we are telling the world about our nice platform and the many pilots in the societal challenge domains that we have executed and evaluated. We wrote everything down in one comprehensive paper which was accepted at the 7th international conference on Web Engineering (ICWE 2017) which is to be held in Rome next month.

High-level BDE architecture (copied from the paper Auer et al.)

The paper “The BigDataEurope Platform – Supporting the Variety Dimension of Big Data”  is co-written by a very large team (see below) and it presents the BDE platform — an easy-to-deploy, easy-to-use and adaptable (cluster-based and standalone) platform for the execution of big data components and tools like Hadoop, Spark, Flink, Flume and Cassandra.  To facilitate the processing of heterogeneous data, a particular innovation of the platform is the Semantic Layer, which allows to directly process RDF data and to map and transform arbitrary data into RDF. The platform is based upon requirements gathered from seven of the societal challenges put forward by the European Commission in the Horizon 2020 programme and targeted by the BigDataEurope pilots. It is validated through pilot applications in each of these seven domains. .A draft version of the paper can be found here.


The full reference is:

Sören Auer, Simon Scerri, Aad Versteden, Erika Pauwels, Angelos Charalambidis, Stasinos Konstantopoulos, Jens Lehmann, Hajira Jabeen, Ivan Ermilov, Gezim Sejdiu, Andreas Ikonomopoulos, Spyros Andronopoulos, Mandy Vlachogiannis, Charalambos Pappas, Athanasios Davettas, Iraklis A. Klampanos, Efstathios Grigoropoulos, Vangelis Karkaletsis, Victor de Boer, Ronald Siebes, Mohamed Nadjib Mami, Sergio Albani, Michele Lazzarini, Paulo Nunes, Emanuele Angiuli, Nikiforos Pittaras, George Giannakopoulos, Giorgos Argyriou, George Stamoulis, George Papadakis, Manolis Koubarakis, Pythagoras Karampiperis, Axel-Cyrille Ngonga Ngomo, Maria-Esther Vidal.   . Proceedings of The International Conference on Web Engineering (ICWE), ICWE2017, LNCS, Springer, 2017


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Dutch Ships and Sailors SPARQL handson exercises

I made some exercises a while ago but keep re-using them for SPARQL tutorials and hands on sessions. The hands on page lists a number of sparql queries that one can copy-paste into the interactive query field of the Dutch Ships and Sailors live triple store. Note that not all of them are still working as originally intended, as that triple store is constantly changing.

Handson SPARQL excercises (updated May 2017)

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[Reading club] Dance in the World of Data and Objects

This is a first post in a new series on VU Semantic Web reading club. During this weekly reading club we discuss a research paper related to Semantic Web, Human Computation or Computer Science in general. Every week, one group member selects and prepares a paper to discuss. This week it was my time and I chose a paper from 2013: “Dance in the World of Data and Objects” by Katerina El Raheb and Yannis Ioannidis (full citation and abstract below). The paper presents the need for (OWL) ontologies for dance representation. A quite nice slide deck supporting the paper is found here.

‘Dance’. CC-By (Teresa Alexander-Arab) 

Computer-interpretable knowledge representations for dance is something I have been thinking about for a while now. I am mostly interested in representations that actually match the conceptual level at which dancers and choreoraphers communicate and how these are related to low-level representations such as Labanotation. I am currently supervising two Msc students on this topic.

The paper by El Raheb and Ioannidis and our discussion afterwards outlined the potential use of such a formal representations for:

  1. Archiving dance and for retrieval. This is a more ‘traditional’ use of such representations in ICT for Cultural Heritage. An interesting effect of having this represented using standard semantic web languages is that we can connect deep representations of choreographers to highly heterogeneous knowledge about for example dance or musical styles, locations, recordings, emotions etc. An interesting direct connection could be to Albert Merono’s RDF midi representations.
  2. For dance analysis. By having large amounts of data in this representation, we can support Digital Humanities research. Both in more distant reading, but potentially also more close analysis of dance. Machine learning techniques could be of use herer.
  3. For creative support. Potentially very interesting is to investigate to what extent representations of dance can be used to support the creative process of dancers and choreographers. We can think of pattern-based adaptations of choreographies.


Citation: El Raheb K., Ioannidis Y. (2013) Dance in the World of Data and Objects. In: Nesi P., Santucci R. (eds) Information Technologies for Performing Arts, Media Access, and Entertainment. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 7990. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

Abstract: In this paper, we discuss the challenges that we have faced and the solutions we have identified so far in our currently on-going effort to design and develop a Dance Information System for archiving traditional dance, one of the most significant realms of intangible cultural heritage. Our approach is based on Description Logics and aims at representing dance moves in a way that is both machine readable and human understandable to support semantic search and movement analysis. For this purpose, we are inspired by similar efforts on other cultural heritage artifacts and propose to use an ontology on dance moves (DanceOWL) that is based on the Labanotation concepts. We are thus able to represent dance movement as a synthesis of structures and sequences at different levels of conceptual abstraction, which serve the needs of different potential users, e.g., dance analysts, cultural anthropologists. We explain the rationale of this methodology, taking into account the state of the art and comparing it with similar efforts that are also in progress, outlining the similarities and differences in our respective objectives and perspectives. Finally, we describe the status of our effort and discuss the steps we intend to take next as we proceed towards the original goal.

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DIVE+ Submitted to LODLAM

Here’s the submission to the annual LODLAM challenge from the DIVE+ team. In this video, we introduce the ideas behind DIVE+ and take you for a exploratory swim in the linked media knowledge graph!

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Web and Media at ICT.OPEN2017

On 21 and 22 March, researchers from VU’s Web and Media group attended ICT.OPEN, the principal ICT research conference in the Netherlands. Here over 500 scientists from all ICT research disciplines & interested researchers from industry come together to learn from each other, share ideas and network. The conference featured some great keynote speeches, including one from Nissan’s Erik Vinkhuyzen on the role of anthropological and sociological research to develop better self-driving cars.  Barbara Terhal from Aachen University gave a challenging, but well-presented talk on the challenges regarding robustness for quantum computing.

As last year, the Web and Media group this year was well represented through multiple oral presentations with accompanying posters and demonstrations :

  • Oana Inel, Carlos Martinez and Victor de Boer presented DIVEplus. Oana did such a good job presenting the project in the main programme (see Oana’s DIVE+@ICTOpen2017 slides), through the demo and in front of a poster that the poster was selected as best Poster in the SIKS track.
  • Benjamin Timmermans, Tobias Kuhn and Tibor Vermeij presented the Controcurator project with a demonstration and poster presentation. In the demo the ControCurator human-machine framework for identifying controversy in multimodal data is shown.
  • Tobias Kuhn discussed “Genuine Semantic Publishing” in the Computer Science track on the first day. His slides can be found here. After the talk there was a very interesting discussion about the role of the narrative writing process and how it would relate to semantic publishing.
  • Ronald Siebes and Victor de Boer then discussed how Big and Linked Data technologies developed in the Big Data Europe project are used to deliver pharmacological web-services for drug discovery. You can read more in Ronald’s blog post.
  • Benjamin Timmermans and Zoltan Zslavik also presented the CrowdTruth demonstrator, which is shown in this short demonstrator video.
  • Sabrina Sauer presented the MediaNow project with a nice poster titled MediaNow – using a living lab method to understand media professionals’ exploratory search.


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Hands on BDE Health at ICT.OPEN 2017

[This post was written by Ronald Siebes and crossposted at big-data-europe.eu and wm.cs.vu.nl]

Last week, BigDataEurope was present at the principal ICT research conference in the Netherlands, ICT.OPEN, where over 500 scientists from all ICT research disciplines & interested researchers from industry come together to learn from each other, share ideas and network.

This is the first time that the NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, added the “Health” track, a recognition of the increased importance of ICT in the domain of diagnosis, drug discovery and health-care. We presented a short paper written by Ronald Siebes, Victor de Boer, Bryn Williams-Jones, Kiera McNeice and Stian Soiland-Reyes covering the current state of the SC1 “Health, demographic change and well-being” pilot which implements the Open PHACTS functionality on the Big Data Europe infrastructure.

We succeeded to demonstrate the ease of use and practical value of the SC1 pilot for researchers in the domain of Drug Discovery and developers of Big Linked Data solutions and are looking forward to further strengthen our collaboration with the various. The paper was accepted as a poster presentation but also selected for an oral presentation at the “Health & ICT” track.


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Big Data Europe Youtube channel

For those curious about the Big Data Europe technology stack and who rather view videos than read descriptions and documentation, we have started a youtube video channel where BDE researchers explain the how, why and what of the BDE stack. Embedded below is a short clip of Hajira Jabeen explaining how BDE enables someone to get started with Big Data. More clips are available on the channel.

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ICT4D 2017 promo video

As a teaser for our upcoming ICT4D students. Have a look at this nice video that André Baart made

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Speech technology and colorization for audiovisual archives

[This post describes and is based on Rudy Marsman‘s MSc thesis and is partly based on a Dutch blog post by him]

The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (NISV) archives Dutch broadcast TV and makes it available to researchers, professionals and the general public. One subset are the Polygoonjournaals (Public News broadcasts) that are published under open licenses as part of the OpenImages platform. NISV is also interested in exploring new ways and technologies to make interaction with the material easier and to increase exposure to their archives. In this context, Rudy explored two options.

Two stills from the film ‘Steegjes‘, with the right frame colorized. Source: Polygoon-Profilti (producent) / Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid  / colorized by Rudy Marsman, CC BY-SA

One part of the research was the autonomous colorization of old black-and-white video footage using Neural Networks. Rudy used a pre-trained NN (Zhang et al 2016) that is able to colorize black and white images. Rudy developed a program to split videos into frames, colorize the individual frames using the NN and then ‘stitch’ them back together into colorized videos. The stunning results were very well received by NISV employees. Examples are shown below.

Tour de France 1954 (colorized by Rudy Marsman in 2016), Polygoon-Profilti (producent) / Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid (beheerder), CC-BY SA

Results from the comparison of the different variants of the method on different corpora
Results from the comparison of the different variants of the method on different corpora

In the other part of his research, Rudy investigated to what extent the existing news broadcast corpus, with a voice-overs from the famous Philip Bloemendal  can be used to develop a modern text-to-speech engine with his voice. To do so he have mainly focused on natural language processing and the determination to what extent the language used by Bloemendal in the 1970s is still comparable enough to contemporary Dutch.

Rudy used precompiled automatic speech recognition (ASR) results to match words to sounds and developed a slot-and-filler text-to-speech system based on this. To increase the limited vocabulary, he implemented a number of strategies, including term-expansion through the use of Open Dutch Wordnet and smart decompounding (this mostly works for Dutch, mapping ‘sinterklaasoptocht’ to ‘sinterklaas’ and ‘optocht’. The different strategies were compared to a baseline. Rudy found that a combination of the two resulted in the best performance (see figure). For more information:

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