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TWC at AGU FM 2018

January 22nd, 2019

In 2018, AGU celebrated its centennial year. TWC had a good showing at this AGU, with 8 members attending and presenting on a number of projects.

We arrived at DC on Saturday night, to attend the DCO Virtual Reality workshop organized by Louis Kellogg and the DCO Engagement Team, where research from greater DCO community came together to present, discuss and understand how the use of VR can facilitate and improve both research and teaching. Oliver Kreylos and Louis Kellogg spent various session presenting the results of DCO VR project, which involved recreating some of the visualizations used commonly at TWC, i.e the mineral networks. For a preview of using the VR environment, check out these three tweets. Visualizing mineral networks in a VR environment has yielded some promising results, we observed interesting patterns in the networks which need to be explored and validated in the near future.

With a successful pre-AGU workshop behind us, we geared up for the main event. First thing Monday morning, was the “Predictive Analytics” poster session, which Shaunna Morrison, Fang Huang, and Marshall Ma helped me convene. The session, while low on abstracts submitted, was full of very interesting applications of analytics methods in various earth and space science domains.

Fang Huang also co-convened a VGP session on Tuesday, titled “Data Science and Geochemistry“. It was a very popular session, with 38 abstracts. Very encouraging to see divisions other than ESSI have Data Science sessions. This session also highlighted the work of many of TWC’s collaborators from the DTDI project. Kathy Fontaine convened a e-lightning session on Data policy. This new format was very successfully in drawing a large crowd to the event and enabled a great discussion on the topic. The day ended with Fang’s talk, presenting our findings about the network analysis of samples from the cerro negro volcano.

Over the next 2 days, many of TWC’s collaborators presented, but no one from TWC presented until Friday. Friday though was the busiest day for all of us from TWC. Starting with Peter Fox’s talk in the morning, Mark Parsons, Ahmed Eleish, Kathy Fontaine and Brenda Thomson all presented their work during the day. Oh yeah…and I presented too! My poster on the creation of the “Global Earth Mineral Inventory” got good feedback. Last, but definitely not the least, Peter represented the ESSI division during the AGU centennial plenary, where he talked about the future of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in the Earth Sciences. The video of the entire plenary can be found here.

Overall, AGU18 was great, other than the talk mentioned above, multiple productive meetings and potential collaboration emerged from meeting various scientists and talking to them about their work. It was an incredible learning experience for me and the other students (for whom this was the first AGU).

As for other posters and talks I found interesting. I tweeted a lot about them during AGU. Fortunately, I did make a list of some interesting posters.

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Get Off Your Twitter

August 25th, 2017

Web Science, more so than many other disciplines of Computer Science, has a special focus on its humanist qualities – no surprise in that the Web is ultimately an instrument for human expression and cooperation. Naturally, lots of current research in Web Science centers on people and their patterns of behavior, making social media a potent source of data for this line of work.

 

Accordingly, much time has been devoted to analyzing social networks – perhaps to a fault. Much of the ACM’s Web Science ‘17 conference centered on social media; more specifically, Twitter. While it may sound harsh, the reality is that many of the papers presented at WebSci’17 could be reduced to the following pattern:

  1. There’s Lots of Political Polarization
  2. We Want to Explore the Political Landscape
  3. We Scraped Twitter
  4. We Ran (Sentiment Analysis/Mention Extraction/etc.)
  5. and We Found Out Something Interesting About the Political Landscape

Of the 57 submissions included in the WebSci’17 proceedings, 17 mention ‘Twitter’ or ‘tweet’ in the abstract or title; that’s about 3 out of every 10 submissions, including posters. By comparison, only seven mention Facebook, with some submissions mentioning both.

 

This isn’t to demean the quality or importance of such work; there’s a lot to be gained from using Twitter to understand the current political climate, as well as loosely quantifying cultural dynamics and understanding social networks. However, this isn’t the only topic in Web Science worth exploring, and Twitter certainly shouldn’t be the ultimate arbitrator of that discussion. While Twitter provides a potent means for understanding popular sentiment via a well-controlled dataset, it is still only a single service that attracts a certain type of user and is better for pithy sloganeering than it is for deep critical analysis, or any other form of expression that can’t be captured in 140 characters.

 

One of my fellow conference-goers also noticed this trend. During a talk on his submission to WebSci’17, Holge Holtzmann, a researcher from Germany working with Web archives, offered a truism that succinctly captures what I’m saying here: that Twitter ought not to be the only data source researchers are using when doing Web Science.

 

In fact, I would argue that Mr. Holtzmann’s focus, Web archives, could provide a much richer basis for testing our cultural hypotheses. While more old school, Web archives capture a much, much larger and more representative span of the Web from it’s inception to the dawn of social media than Twitter could ever hope to.

 

The winner for Best Paper speaks directly to the new possibilities offered by working with more diverse datasets. Applying a deep learning approach to Web archives, the authors examined the evolution of front-end Web design over the past two decades. Admittedly, I wasn’t blown away by their results; they claimed that their model had generated new Web pages in the style of different eras, but didn’t show an example, which was underwhelming. But that’s beside the point; the point is that this is a unique task which couldn’t be accomplished by leaning exclusively on Twitter or any other social media platform.

 

While I remain critical of the hyper-focus of the Web Science community on social media sites – and especially Twitter – as a seed for its work, I do admire the willingness to wade into cultural and other human-centric issues. This is a rare trait in technological disciplines in general, but especially fields of Computer Science; you’re far more likely to read about gains in deep reinforcement learning than you are to read about accommodating cultural differences in Web use (though these don’t necessarily exclude each other). To that point, the need to provide greater accessibility to the Web for disadvantaged groups and to preserve rapidly-disappearing Web content were widely noted, leaving me optimistic for the future of the field as a way of empowering everyone on the Web.

 

Now time to just wean ourselves off Twitter a bit…

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WebSci ’17

August 14th, 2017

The Web Science Conference was hosted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this year. The Tetherless World Constellation was heavily involved in organizing the event and ensuring the conference ran smoothly.The venue for the conference was the Franklin Plaza in downtown Troy. It was a great venue, with a beautiful rooftop.

On 25th June, there were a set of workshops organized for the attendees. I was a student volunteer at the “Algorithm Mediated Online Information Access (AMOIA)” workshop. We started the day off with a set of talks. The common theme for these talks were to reduce the bias in services we use online. We then spent the next few hours in a discussion on the “Role of recommendation algorithms in online hoaxes and fake news.”

Prof. Peter Fox and Prof Deborah McGuinness, who were the Main Conference Chairs, kicked off the Conference on 26th June. Steffen Staab gave his keynote talk on “The Web We Want“.  After the keynote talk, we jumped right into a series of talks. A few topics caught my attention during each session. Venkata Rama Kiran Garimella’s talk on “The Effect of Collective Attention on Controversial Debates on Social Media” was very interesting, as was the talk on “Recommendations for groups in location-based social networks” by Fred Ayala. We ended the talks with a Panel disscussion on “The ethics of doing Web Science”. After the panel discussions, we headed to the roof for some dinner and the Web Science Poster Session. There were plenty of Posters at the session. Congrui Li and Spencer Norris from TWC presented their work at the poster session.

 

27th of June was the day of the conference I was most looking forward to, since they had a session on “Networks : Structure, Identifiers, Search”. I found all the talk presented here very fascinating and useful. Particularly the talk “Herirachichal Change Point Detection” and “Adaptive Edge Probing” by Yu Wang and Sucheta Soundarajan respectively. I plan to use the work they presented in one of my current research projects. At the end of the day on 27th June, the award for the papers and posters were presented. Helena Webb won the best paper award. She presented her work on “The ethical challenges of publishing Twitter data for research dissemination”. Venkata Garimella won the best student paper award. Tetherless’ own Spencer Norris won the best poster award.

On 28th June, we started the day of by giving a set of talks on the topic chosen for the Hackthon, “Network Analysis for Non-Social Data”. Here I presented my work on how Network Analysis techniques can be leveraged and applied in the field of Earth Science. After these talk, the hackathon presentations were made by the participants. At lunch , Ahmed Eliesh from TWC won first place in the Hackathon. After lunch, we had the last 2 sessions at WebSci ’17. In these talks, Shawn Jones’ talk present Yasmin Alnomany’s work on “Generating Stories from Archived Collections” and Helena Webb’s best paper winning talk on “The ethical challenges of publishing Twitter data for research dissemination” piqued my interest.

Overall, attending the web science conference was a very valuable experience for me. There was plenty to learn, lots of networking opportunities and a generally jovial atmosphere around the conference. Here’s Looking forward to the next year’s conference in Amsterdam.

 

 

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Unanticipated consequences: Saving data.gov

April 14th, 2011

I had a bizarre dream last night, one of those surreal shockers. The details aren’t important, but I realized on waking up that the dream’s theme was all about unanticipated consequences.  I realized I needed to write this post.

To set some context: I went to bed upset last night.  I was upset at two things, one is an article on techcrunch entitled “Five Open Questions For Data.gov Before We #SaveTheData,” the other was my response to the article.  I hope I can respond to the first and apologize for the second.  I want to make one thing clear, however, before I start – I am a strong supporter of http://data.gov, I think it is a great experiment in democracy resulting from bold leadership, and if it dies in the current budget cutting it will be an enduring embarrassment for the USA and a major loss to government transparency.

The article I was upset about was written by Kate Ray (@kraykray), an amazingly bright and articulate young woman who has made several very impressive videos and online articles that I am a fan of.  She recently was one of the co-founders of “NerdCollider,” a website designed to bring intelligent discussion to interesting issues — an idea I support.  I was proud to be an early contributor to one of their discussions, which asked “What would you change about Data.gov to get more people to care?

In the TechCrunch blog post I mentioned above, Kate takes several quotes from this discussion and reflects on their import — is data.gov taking some of the key issues into account?  As a good reporter, Kate’s OpEd is actually quite objective – she reports on several comments made by people, including me, as to issues the site has in terms of its effort to share government data.   TechCrunch is a very influential site, the article title has been tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times to hundreds of thousands of potential readers (congrats to Kate on this viral takeup), raising awareness of Congress’ narrow-minded goal of killing the project, which I guess is a good thing.  Unfortunately, the choice of the word “Before” in “… Before we #savethedata” has a negative implication, and I’m hoping that doesn’t kill off the positive efforts that the #savethedata meme was designed to promote.

In her article, Kate brings up important issues, but what she doesn’t make clear is that most of the people she quotes are indeed strong supporters of the Open Government movement and fans of Data.gov.  The seeming criticisms were actually constructive responses to the question of how we could get more people to care (a positive), and not meant to say what was wrong with the site that must be fixed before the site was useful.  It’s already very useful, but like any new effort, there’s always room for improvement. However, those changes will never happen if the site is forced to go dark!

As I said, Kate’s article has been phenomenally well tweeted, in fact, if you look at #savethedata the stream is so filled with pointers to this article that one can no longer easily find the link to the Petition created by the Sunlight Foundation to help stop the budget cuts — that petition is where the #savethedata meme started (thanks @EllnMiller).  Kate also doesn’t point to the great HuffPost article by @bethnoveck explaining why cutting the funding to this and other egovernment sites will threaten American jobs which was also retweeting around the #savethedata meme.

So I hope one unanticipated consequence of this article is that it doesn’t help cause the death of data.gov by killing off the awareness of its importance or losing the momentum on the petition that could save it.

But, as Arlo Guthrie used to say, “that’s not what I came here to talk about tonight…”

In my response to Kate’s article, I referred to her making factual errors.  This is a horrible thing to accuse a young journalist of, and I was being unfair.  The errors I wanted to point out were not in Kate’s piece, but in the chart chosen to go along.  It appears to show a flatline in the interest in data.gov, using figures from (as Kate told me later in a separate tweet) compete.com on “unique visits.”  I don’t know where compete.com gets the data, but the tracking of the  number of visitors on the data.gov site — which are reported on the site on a daily basis seems to show a much larger number with a more positive trend (over 180,000 visits in March).  It’s unclear why there is this discrepancy (I suspect it’s in how compete.com figures uniqueness for sites they don’t control), but it is clear it isn’t Kate’s fault.   She also cites the number of downloads in her article as 1.5M since Oct 2010, which is the number reported on data.gov, but as of last week, the site broke 2M downloads, and the number is trending up.

Anyway, I’m digressing again (occupational hazard of a college professor) — the key point is the errors are not Kate’s and that she was reflecting on what she found.

I also was upset that she quoted me out of context – in my nerdcollider response I made it clear I was supporting data.gov, and offering some constructive solutions to the question of how we could make the site better.  As the quote appears in her piece, it looks like I’m saying the data is poorly organized on the site — but what I was actually saying is that in the incredible richness of  data sets available (data.gov hosted over 300,000 datasets at last count!) we have to explore new ways to search for data  — it’s a wonderful problem to have!  But I did say what she quoted, and as she pointed out to me, correctly, one of the good things about nerdcollider is that the full context of the quotes are there to be cited.  She’s right.

So just as I hope Kate’s piece doesn’t have the unanticipated consequence of hurting data.gov, I hope my admittedly intemperate response doesn’t have the unanticipated consequence of hurting the reputation of this young potential online media star.

@kraykray – I apologize.

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Author: Categories: linked data, open data, personal ramblings, twitter Tags:

Budget Cuts Threatening Data.gov

March 31st, 2011

You may have heard that the Data.gov website is going to be shut down.  I wish I could say this is completely false, but  I can at least say that it is a bit premature — if Congress cuts the budgets to the threatened level, a number of sites, including Data.gov will have trouble continuing to grow, and some may have to be shut down — but right now the budget cuts are not final, and the plans are still in the works.  Data.gov, luckily, is less expensive than some of the other sites to maintain, so the discussion right now is more about cutting plans for expansion than shutting down completely, but even that would be a major blow to open government data. However, sites like USAspending and others will be harder to maintain, and even data.gov could end up shut down if the full cuts go through unchanged (but at least I’m personally hoping the Senate and White House will resist this)

What you can do is to get involved!  Let your politicians hear from you — the Sunlight Foundation has a great site about this at http://sunlightfoundation.com/savethedata/ which will let you sign a petition and has some suggestions for other actions.  It also has up to date information on the situation — please go look there.

There’s also a lot of articles out there, and much to follow in twitter space — here’s some starting points

In the past day, there have been a lot of articles in the news about Data.gov:  http://www.google.com/search?q=%22data+gov%22&hl=en&prmdo=1&tbm=mbl&num=10&lr=&ft=i&cr=&safe=images&tbs=qdr:w#q=data.gov&hl=en&lr=&prmdo=1&tbm=nws&ei=ehuVTfz9GY3msQOCiJ3MBQ&start=0&sa=N&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=83f1e1e6450f219c

A good article by Beth Noveck (I’m the president of her fan club :-) ): Huffington Post: “Why Cutting E-Gov Funding Threatens American Jobs
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beth-simone-noveck/why-cutting-egov-funding-_b_840430.html

The hashtag for following this on twitter is #savethedata

So please, join us in saving these important government transparency efforts!!

-Jim Hendler

p.s. For some irony, Hong Kong’s open data site went live today: http://www.gov.hk/en/theme/psi/welcome/

Here’s some more articles and things for those interested

Federal News Radio, Daniel Shuman, Sunlight Foundation, “Budget cuts may end transparency programs”  http://www.federalnewsradio.com/index.php?nid=17&sid=232614
Federal News Radio, Executive Editor, Jason Miller, “OMB prepares for open gov sites to go dark in May”: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=35&sid=2327798
Sunlight Foundation, Daniel Shuman, “Budget Technopocalypse Deepens: Transparency Sites will go dark in a few months”: http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2011/03/31/budget-technopocalypse-deepens-transparency-sites-will-go-dark-in-a-few-months/
Washington Examiner, Mark Tapscott, “Transparency advocates appeal to Congress to avoid budget cuts”: http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/2011/03/transparent-advocates-appeal-congress-avoid-budget-cuts
PCWorld, Grant Gross, “Group Protests Proposed Cuts to e-Government Transparency Efforts”: http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/223618/group_protests_proposed_cuts_in_egovt_transparency_efforts.html
“Data.gov and 7 other sites to shut down after budget cuts”: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/datagov_7_other_sites_to_shut_down_after_budgets_c.php

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