Archive for July, 2010

Enabling a Social Semantic Web for Argumentation (defining my Ph.D. research problem)

July 23rd, 2010

I’m working on online argumentation: Making it easier to have discussions, get to consensus, and understand disagreements across websites.

Here are the 3 key questions and the most closely related work that I’ve identified in the first 9 months of my Ph.D.

Read on, if you want to know more. Then let me know what you think! Suggestions will be especially helpful since I’m writing my first year Ph.D. report, which will set the direction for my second year at DERI.

Enabling a Social Semantic Web for Argumentation

Argumentative discussions occur informally throughout the Web, however there is currently no way of bringing together all of the discussions on a given topic along with an indication of who is agreeing and who is disagreeing. Thus substantial human analysis is required to integrate opinions and expertise to, for instance, determine the best policies and procedures to mitigate global warming, or the recommended treatment for a given disease. New techniques for gathering and organising the Social Web using ontologies such as FOAF and SIOC show promise for creating a Social Semantic Web for argumentation.

I am currently investigating three main research questions to establish the Social Semantic Web for argumentation:

  1. How can we best define argumentation for the Social Semantic Web, to isolate the essential problems? We wish to enable reasoning with inconsistent knowledge, to integrate disparate knowledge, and identify consensus and disputes.  Similar questions and techniques come up in related but distinct areas, such as sentiment analysis, dialogue mapping, dispute resolution, question-answering and e-government participation.
  2. What sort of modular framework for argumentation can support distributed, emergent argumentation — a World Wide Argumentation Web? Some Web 2.0 tools, such as Debatepedia, LivingVote, and Debategraph, provide integrated environments for explicit argumentation. But our goal is for individuals to be able to use their own preferred tools — in a social environment — while understanding what else is being discussed.
  3. How can we manage the tension between informality and ease of expression on the one hand and formal semantics and retrievability/reusability on the other hand? Minimal integration of informal arguments requires two pieces of information: a statement of the issue or proposition, and an indication of polarity (agreement or disagreement). How can we gather this information without adding cognitive overhead for users?

Related Work

Ennals et al. ask: ‘What is disputed on the Web? (Ennals 2010b). They use annotation and NLP techniques to develop a prototype system for highlighting disputed claims in Web documents (Ennals 2010a). Cabanac et al. find that two algorithms for identifying the level of controversy about an issue were up to 84% accurate (compared to human perception), on a corpus of 13 arguments. These are useful prototypes of what could be done; Ennals prototype is indeed a Web-scale system, but disputed claims are not arguments.

Rahwan et al. (2007) present a pilot Semantic Web-based system, ArgDF, in which users can create arguments, and query to find networks of arguments. ArgDF is backed with the AIF-RDF ontology, and uses Semantic Web standards.  Rahwan (2008) surveys current Web2.0 tools, pointing out that integration between these tools is lacking, and that only very shallow argument structures are supported; ArgDF and AIF-RDF are explained as an improvement. What is lacking is uptake in end-user orientated (e.g. Web 2.0) tools.

The Web2.0 aspect of the problem is explored in several papers, including Buckingham Shum (2008), which presents Cohere, a Web2.0-style argumentation system supporting existing (non-Semantic Web) argumentation standards, and Groza et al. (2009) which proposes a abstract framework for modeling argumentation. These are either minimally implemented frameworks or stand-alone systems which do not yet support the distributed, emergent argumentation envisioned, as further elucidated by Buckingham Shum (2010).

References with links to preprints

  1. S. Buckingham Shum, “Cohere: Towards Web 2.0 Argumentation,” Computational Models of Argument – Proceedings of COMMA 2008, IOS Press, 2008.
  2. S. Buckingham Shum, AIF Use Case: Iraq Debate, Glenshee, Scotland, UK: 2010.
  3. G. Cabanac, M. Chevalier, C. Chrisment, and C. Julien, “Social validation of collective annotations: Definition and experiment,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, vol. 61, 2010, pp. 271-287.
  4. R. Ennals, B. Trushkowsky, and J.M. Agosta, “Highlighting Disputed Claims on the Web,” WICOW 2010, Raleigh, North Carolina: 2010.
  5. R. Ennals, D. Byler, J.M. Agosta, and Barboara Rosario, “What is Disputed on the Web?,” WWW 2010, Raleigh, North Carolina: 2010.
  6. T. Groza, S. Handschuh, J.G. Breslin, and S. Decker, “An Abstract Framework for Modeling Argumentation in Virtual Communities,” International Journal of Virtual Communities and Social Networking, vol. 1, Sep. 2009, pp. 35-47. 
  7. I. Rahwan, “Mass argumentation and the semantic web,” Web Semantics: Science, Services and Agents on the World Wide Web, vol. 6, Feb. 2008, pp. 29-37.
  8. I. Rahwan, F. Zablith, and C. Reed, “Laying the foundations for a World Wide Argument Web,” Artificial Intelligence, vol. 171, Jul. 2007, pp. 897-921.

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Posted in argumentative discussions, PhD diary, semantic web, social semantic web, social web | Comments (1)

Quoted in Inside Higher Ed

July 17th, 2010

Earlier this week, Inside Higher Ed published an article about wikis in higher education. I’m quoted in connection with my work1 with AcaWiki, which gathers summaries of research papers, books, etc.

The article was publicized with a tweet asking “Why haven’t #wikis revolutionized scholarship?

Of course, I’d rather ask “how have wikis impacted scholarship?” — though that’s less sexy! First, the largest impact is in technological infrastructure: it’s now commonplace to use collaborative, networked tools with built-in version control. (Though “wiki” isn’t what we’d use to describe Google Docs nor Etherpad or its many clones). Second, wikis are ubiquitous in research, if you look in the right places. (nLab, OpenWetWare, and numerous departmental wikis). Third, “revolutions” take time, and academia is essentially conservative and slow-moving. For instance, ejournals (~15 years old and counting) are only just starting to depart significantly from the paper form (with multimedia inclusions, storage of data and other, public comments, overlay  journals, post-publication peer-review, etc). Wikis have been used for teaching since roughly 20022, meaning that academic wikis might be only about 8 years old at this point.

Other responses: Viva la wiki, says Brian Lamb, who was also interviewed for the article. Daniel Mietchen thinks big about the future of wikis for science.


  1. I used to be AcaWiki’s Community Liaison and now contribute summaries and help administer the wiki. []
  2. see e.g. Bergin, J. (2002). Teaching on the wiki web. In Proceedings of the 7th annual conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education (pp. 195-195). Aarhus, Denmark: ACM. doi:10.1145/544414.544473 and related source code []

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Posted in future of publishing, higher education, information ecosystem, scholarly communication | Comments (0)

Funding Models for Books

July 17th, 2010

Paying for books per copy “developed in response to the invention of the printing press”, and a Readercon panel discussed some alternatives.

Existing alternatives, as noted in Cecilia Tan’s summary of the panel:

  • the donation model
  • the Kickstarter model
  • the “ransom” model
  • the subscription or membership model
  • the “perks” model
  • the merchandising model
  • the collectibles model
  • the company or support grant model
  • the voting model
  • the hits/pageviews model

Any synergies with Kevin Kelly’s Better than Free?

via HTLit’s Readercon overview

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Posted in books and reading, future of publishing | Comments (0)

DERI “Research Explained” video series

July 15th, 2010

Word has gotten out about DERI’s “Research Explained” video series, which I’m narrating. These videos explain DERI’s Semantic Web research to a broad audience, so far in three areas: mobile/social sensing, expert finding, and semantic search.

James Lyng, Julie Letierce, Brendan Smith, and Dr. Brian Wall produce these videos with in collaboration with DERI scientists. Drawings are by Eoghan Hynes and James Lyng.

screenshot from "Semantic Search Explained" at YouTube

Watch the series at DERI Galway’s youtube video channel.

My voiceover role came thanks to Julie’s instigation, since I had narrated a screencast for our colleague Peyman Nasirifard’s Conterprise project.

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Posted in scholarly communication, semantic web | Comments (0)