A few notes on a successful ESWC’12 and OWLED’12

Slightly later than near-realtime due to flight delays, here are a few notes on the 9th Extended Semantic Web Conference ESWC’12 and OWL: Experiences and Directions OWLED’12, which I attended about two weeks ago in Crete, Greece.


ESWC’12 was as selective as previous years, with, on average, a 25% acceptance rate. The proceedings are published by Springer; where applicable, I’ve linked the freely available versions in the references below. There’s also metadata and a list of award winners.

Main background picture of the ESWC’12 conference, with Cretan hills


I assume that, like last year, The keynotes have been put on the video lectures website; below follows a brief impression. for now, you’ll have to make do with a brief impression through my lenses.

Alon Halevy, head of structured data at Google, gave his keynote the morning after the social dinner (but the conference hall was full nevertheless). He entertains the perspective of Knowledge Representation and the Semantic Web as being “databases on steroids”. The talk’s topics were Google fusion tables with lightweight semantics that are intended as a “data management for the 99%” and Webtables, which was about a search for data tables on the Web, with as goal to have an easy to use database system that is integrated with the web. The work on web tables was alike a very large-scale attempt at bottom-up lightweight conceptual data model and ontology development. They crawled the Web for raw tables (14 billion), of which an estimated 154 million can pass for real relations (relations from the database viewpoint, with structured data, not using a html table for the layout of a page), which then ended up as 2.5 million schemas as recovered table/relation semantics. And then there’s Halevy’s enthusiasm about coffee.

Aleksander Kolcz from Twitter went over a few problems they are trying to solve at Twitter, such as the tweet relevance, who to follow, content recommendation, language, anti-spam, and user interest modeling. As small tidbit of data: there are 140 million users, 340 million tweets/day, and 2.3 billion search queries/day (i.e., 26K/sec.). Apparently, when one has enough, i.e., very large amounts, of data, simple models work “remarkably well” and ensembles of classifiers perform better in accuracy.

Abraham Bernstein’s keynote was about getting our act together in the semantic web research area and promoting the “garbage can theory” that was introduced by Cohen, March and Olsen in 1973: or, some ideas, theories, and tools are ‘thrown away’ into the garbage, where they can meet others, and combine so that something beautiful can come of it after all (this is my simplistic, shorthand version of it).

Unfortunately I missed the pre-conference keynote by Julius van der Laar because OWLED was still ongoing. By hearsay, I’ve heard it was a good/interesting one about what (sneaky) social media strategies the Obama campaign used in the previous presidential elections in 2008.


There were several tracks that ran in parallel, hence attendance was necessarily limited due to those logistic constraints. I’ve attended the ontologies, reasoning, semantic data management, digital libraries and cultural heritage, and in use sessions. The following pointers are based on my attendance of the presentations and partial reading of the papers.

Ontologies track. Yves Raimond from the BBC presented a query-driven evaluation framework for ontologies, defining their way of ‘good’ with respect to the task and data, and applied it to the music ontology (online slides), noting some room for improvements. The paper also has a neat brief overview of techniques for ontology evaluation [1]. I presented the paper co-authored with Francis Fernandez and Annette Morales on mereotopology and the OntoPartS tool that helps modellers to represent part-whole relations [2], which I introduced in an earlier post. OntoPartS was also presented at the demo session [3], which generated quite some interest among logicians and practitioners alike. Besides my ‘toy ontology’ examples to demonstrate the tool’s functionality, Martin Hepp had brought his GoodRelations ontology for e-commerce, which I thus used instead to illustrate adding part-whole relations to a real ontology. The demo session ended officially at 9pm, but it was after 10pm before I packed up my tablet.

Semantic data management track. Craig Knoblock and co-authors developed a system to link data to ontologies and preserve the linking in a so-called (logic-based) “source model” that is computed semi-automatically by taking as input the data, an ontology, some learned semantic types, and a refinement step by the user in a nice GUI [4]. This was evaluated with a set of bio-informatics resources, such as UniProt. The presentation by Lorena Etcheverry was a bit long on the intro, but the idea nice: enhancing OLAP analysis with ‘good enough’ temporary cubes generated from web sources, the introduction of a new vocabulary, Open Cubes, for the specification and publication of multidimensional cubes on the Semantic Web (which, unfortunately, the authors still have not shared online), and an algorithm for creating the SPARQL 1.1 query for rollup [5].

In use track. Michel Dumontier demonstrated an extension to the HyQue hypothesis formulator and evaluator, using rules sets using the SPARQL Inferencing Notation (SPIN) so that users can trace their hypothesis evaluation [6]. Stefan Scheglmann presented a paper on their efforts how to provide “programming access” to ontologies and have an accompanying tool OntoMDE, a model-driven engineering toolkit (which, however, does not seem to be online available, although a link was shown in the presentation, and I jotted down something on Eclipse plugins) [7]. StorySpace was put in the Digital Libraries and cultural heritage track, but could just as well have been in in-use: it is an environment for constructing and navigating stories, plots, and narratives, guided by the newly introduced curate ontology [8]. We’ll have to look at all that in more detail in the context of our IKMS development [9].


The proceedings of OWLED’12 are available on CEUR-WS. Over 30 papers were submitted, so, the workshop ended up to be somewhat selective compared to previous years. 18 papers were presented, a keynote, and two tutorials. The following is, again, a selection of that (mainly due to my time constraints reading the papers and typing up something).

Mariano Rodriguez presented the ontopQuest system [10] for Ontology-Based Data Access, providing SPARQL query answering with OWL 2 QL/RDFS entailments.  It works with the so-called “classic ABox mode” with an internal relational database and in “virtual ABox mode”, and, unlike, say, QuOnto, it embeds most of the TBox semantics into the database by availing of a (also recently developed) semantic indexing technique. (Hopefully that’ll help my ontologies & knowledge bases students to answer the OBDA questions better next time, who ought to have read at least David Toman’s slides on the principal approaches to realize OBDA before the test.) Staying with reasoning, Dmitry Tsarkov presented the idea of using metareasoning that takes into account both the features of current reasoners and modularisation to come up with the ‘best’ reasoning strategy to answer a query over only that part of the ontology that is relevant for the query [11].

An extension to the OWLGrEd tool for modeling OWL ontologies through a UML-like interface was presented: the developers have added a ‘splitter’ to enable a user to decide which axioms to close (using the OWL + Integrity Constraints), then to send the serialization to the reasoner and display the inferences [12]. Pity that it works only with the commercial RDF database Stardog by Clark & Parsia. Bijan Parsia  presented—among other things—a paper on automatically generating analogy questions, which are widely used in multiple choice questions, and determining somehow their difficulty. The automated generation was facilitated by an ontology, and the initial results are promising [13]. I presented the paper on OWL requirements for indigenous knowledge management systems [9], about which I blogged earlier, as one of my co-authors, Ronell Alberts, was already presenting a paper based on her recently completed MSc thesis [14].

One of the tutorials was about modularity, which was presented by Chiara del Vescovo and Dmitry Tsarkov from Manchester University (see their modularity website for more info). The tutorial presented an overview of where modularity is useful, and how. Some of the reasons to modularise are to facilitate the explanation services, to perform incremental reasoning, semantic diff, and hotspot detection (= splitting an ontology into the simple and the complex part). That is, it presented a viewpoint on modularity as possible solution for the issues of (and the need for) scalability and performance of automated reasoning. Modularity and modularization during modeling and to reduce the so-called cognitive overload—i.e., involving some, or even driven by, subject domain semantics—was here (and is in most other DL-oriented outlets) apparently entirely outside the scope, which is a missed opportunity (more about that another time).

Typical tourist picture of the conference hotel (the view from my room wasn’t that great, but with the busy schedule, that didn’t matter anyway)

Aside from the stimulating papers and keynotes, and ensuing conversations with fellow researchers, it was great to meet people again and meet new people, and we had a lot of fun socialising. Now back to work so as to have shot at next year’s installment of ESWC in Montpellier, France (which is close to a village I used to go on holidays for some 8 years, many years ago).


[1] Raimond, Y., Sandler, M. Evaluation of the music ontology framework. ESWC’12, Springer LNCS vol 7295, 255-269.

[2] Keet, C.M., Fernandez-Reyes, F.C., Morales-Gonzalez, A. Representing mereotopological relations in OWL ontologies with OntoPartS. In: Proceedings of the 9th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’12), 29-31 May 2012, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. Springer, LNCS 7295, 240-254.

[3] Morales-Gonzalez, A., Fernandez-Reyes, F.C., Keet, C.M. OntoPartS: a tool to select part-whole relations in OWL ontologies. 9th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’12), 29-31 May 2012, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. Demo with paper.

[4] Knoblock et al. Semi-automatically mapping structured sources into the semantic web. ESWC’12, Springer LNCS vol 7295, 375-390

[5] Etcheverry, L., Vaisman, A. A. Enhancing OLAP analysis with web cubes. ESWC’12, Springer LNCS vol 7295, 467-483.

[6] Callahan, A, Dumontier, M. Evaluating scientific hypotheses using the SPARQL inferecing notation. ESWC’12, Springer LNCS vol 7295, 647-658.

[7] Scheglmann, S. Scherp, A, Staab, S. Declarative Representation of Programming Access to Ontologies. ESWC’12, Springer LNCS vol 7295, 659-673.

[8] Mulholland, P., Wolff, A., and Collins, T. Curate and StorySpace: On ontology and Web-based environment for describing curatorial narrative. ESWC’12, Springer LNCS vol 7295, 748-762.

[9] Alberts, R., Fogwill, T., Keet, C.M. Several Required OWL Features for Indigenous Knowledge Management Systems. 7th Workshop on OWL: Experiences and Directions (OWLED 2012).  Klinov, P. and Horridge, M. (Eds.). 27-28 May, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. CEUR-WS Vol. 849.

[10] Rodriguez-Muro, M., Calvanese, D. Quest, an OWL 2 QL reasoner for ontology-based data access.  OWLED’12. CEUR-WS Vol. 849.

[11] Dmitry Tsarkov and Ignazio Palmisano, Divide et Impera: Metareasoning for Large Ontologies. OWLED’12. CEUR-WS Vol. 849.

[12] Kārlis Čerāns, Guntis Barzdins, Renārs Liepiņš, Jūlija Ovčiņnikova, Sergejs Rikačovs and Arturs Sprogis, Graphical Schema Editing for Stardog OWL/RDF Databases using OWLGrEd/S. OWLED’12. CEUR-WS Vol. 849.

[13] Tahani Alsubait, Bijan Parsia and Uli Sattler, Mining Ontologies for Analogy Questions: A Similarity-based Approach. OWLED’12. CEUR-WS Vol. 849.

[14] Ronell Alberts and Enrico Franconi, An integrated method using conceptual modelling to generate an ontology-based query mechanism. OWLED’12. CEUR-WS Vol. 849.