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July 24 2014


AKSW Colloquium “Knowledge Extraction and Presentation” on Monday, July 28, 3.00 p.m. in Room P702

Knowledge Extraction and Presentation

On Monday, July 28,  in room P702 at 3.00 p.m., Edgard Marx proposes a question answering system. He has a computer science background (BSc. and MSc. in Computer Science/PUC-Rio) and is a member of AKSW (Agile Knowledge Engineering and Semantic Web). Edgard has been engaging in Semantic Web technology research since  2010 and is mainly working on evangelization and developing of conversion and mapping tools.


The use of Semantic Web technologies led to an increasing number of structured data published on the Web.
Despite the advances on question answering systems retrieving and presenting the desired information from RDF structured sources is still substantial challenging.
In this talk we will present our proposal and working draft to address this challenges.

About the AKSW Colloquium

This event is part of a series of events about Semantic Web technology. Please see for further information about previous and future events. As always, Bachelor and Master students are able to get points for attendance and there is complimentary coffee and cake after the session.

July 21 2014


DBpedia Spotlight V0.7 released

DBpedia Spotlight is an entity linking tool for connecting free text to DBpedia through the recognition and disambiguation of entities and concepts from the DBpedia KB.

We are happy to announce Version 0.7 of DBpedia Spotlight, which is also the first official release of the probabilistic/statistical implementation.

More information about as well as updated evaluation results for DBpedia Spotlight V0.7 are found in this paper:

Joachim Daiber, Max Jakob, Chris Hokamp, Pablo N. Mendes:  Improving Efficiency and Accuracy in Multilingual Entity Extraction ISEM2013.  

The changes to the statistical implementation include:

  • smaller and faster models through quantization of counts, optimization of search and some pruning
  • better handling of case
  • various fixes in Spotlight and PigNLProc
  • models can now be created without requiring a Hadoop and Pig installation
  • UIMA support by @mvnural
  • support for confidence value

See the release notes at [1] and the updated demos at [4].

Models for Spotlight 0.7 can be found here [2].

Additionally, we now provide the raw Wikipedia counts, which we hope will prove useful for research and development of new models [3].

A big thank you to all developers who made contributions to this version (with special thanks to Faveeo and Idio). Huge thanks to Jo for his leadership and continued support to the community.

Pablo Mendes,

on behalf of Joachim Daiber and the DBpedia Spotlight developer community.

[1] -

[2] -

[3] -

[4] -

(This message is an adaptation of Joachim Daiber’s message to the DBpedia Spotlight list. Edited to suit this broader community and give credit to him.)

July 20 2014


Senior Python web developer wanted for world leading open source data portal

Working in the fast-growing area of open data, we build open source tools to drive transparency, accountability and re-use. Our flagship product CKAN runs the official national data portals from the UK to Brazil, US to Australia and many others. We also build data tools and OpenSpending browsers.

We’re looking for someone passionate about the technical challenges of building software that is used as the infrastructure for open data around the world, so come join our growing team to shape the future of the open data ecosystem!

Key Skills

  • Python, JavaScript, HTML, CSS
  • Python web frameworks (we use Pylons and Flask)
  • PostgreSQL and SQLAlchemy
  • Self motivated, self-starter, able to manage your own time

Extra bonus points for:

  • Open source projects/contributions
  • Front end skills, particularly in data-vis
  • You’ve written an app using open data before
  • Experience working in a distributed team

How to apply

Email, with the subject line “Python Developer – CKAN/Services”. Please include:

  1. Your CV
  2. A link to your GitHub (or similar) profile
  3. A cover letter

More about the Job

You will be working as part of a small, dynamic team in a modern, open-source development environment. This role is full-time and we are very happy with remote-working.

We generally work remotely (with strong contingents in London and Berlin), using asynchronous communication (email, IRC, GitHub) but with standups, developer meetings and demos most days (Skype, Google Hangout) and real-world gatherings more than twice a year including at the Open Knowledge Festival. We also try and ensure our developers can attend at least one open source conference a year.

At each level of our software stack we use best-in-class open source software, including Python, Nose, Travis CI and Coveralls, Sphinx and Read the Docs, Flask, Jinja2, Solr, PostgreSQL and SQLAlchemy, JavaScript and jQuery, Bootstrap, Git and Github, and Transifex.

We iterate quickly, and publish working, open-source code early and often.

All of our code is on github – it is open to public scrutiny, and we encourage contributions from third-party developers. This means that we have to write exceptionally clear, readable, well-tested code with excellent documentation.

All code contributions, whether from internal or external developers, are made with GitHub pull requests and we do code reviews in the open on GitHub.

We are engaged with a large and active community of users, developers and translators of our open source software, via our mailing lists, GitHub issues and pull requests, public developer meetings, Stack Overflow and Transifex. We support users in getting started with our software, encourage and mentor new developers, and take on feedback and suggestions for the next releases.

About the Open Knowledge Foundation

The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) is an internationally recognized non-profit working to open knowledge and see it used to empower and improve the lives of citizens around the world. We build tools, provide advice and develop communities in the area of open knowledge: data, content and information which can be freely shared and used. We believe that by creating an open knowledge commons we can make a significant contribution to improving governance, research and the economy. The last two years have seen rapid growth in our activities, increasing our annual revenue to £2m and our team to over 35 across four continents. We are a virtual organisation with the whole team working remotely, although we have informal clusters in London, Cambridge and Berlin.

The OKF is an international leader in its field and has extensive experience in building open source tools and communities around open material. The Foundation’s software development work includes some of the most innovative and widely acclaimed projects in the area. For example, its CKAN project is the world’s leading open source data portal platform – used by,, the European Commission’s open data portal, and numerous national, regional and local portals from Austria to Brazil. The award winning OpenSpending project enables users to explore over 13 million government spending transactions from around the world. It has an active global network which includes Working Groups and Local Groups in dozens of countries – including groups, ambassadors and partners in 21 of Europe’s 27 Member States.

We’re changing the world by promoting a global shift towards more open ways of working in government, arts, sciences and much more.

July 17 2014

SEEK – Leading Aussie Job Search Website Powered by CloudView

July 15 2014


From Taxonomies over Ontologies to Knowledge Graphs

With the rise of linked data and the semantic web, concepts and terms like ‘ontology’, ‘vocabulary’, ‘thesaurus’ or ‘taxonomy’ are being picked up frequently by information managers, search engine specialists or data engineers to describe ‘knowledge models’ in general. In many cases the terms are used without any specific meaning which brings a lot of people to the basic question:

What are the differences between a taxonomy, a thesaurus, an ontology and a knowledge graph?

This article should bring light into this discussion by guiding you through an example which starts off from a taxonomy, introduces an ontology and finally exposes a knowledge graph (linked data graph) to be used as the basis for semantic applications.

1. Taxonomies and thesauri

Taxonomies and thesauri are closely related species of controlled vocabularies to describe relations between concepts and their labels including synonyms, most often in various languages. Such structures can be used as a basis for domain-specific entity extraction or text categorization services. Here is an example of a taxonomy created with PoolParty Thesaurus Server which is about the Apollo programme:

Apollo programme taxonomyThe nodes of a taxonomy represent various types of ‘things’ (so called ‘resources’): The topmost level (orange) is the root node of the taxonomy, purple nodes are so called ‘concept schemes’ followed by ‘top concepts’ (dark green) and ordinary ‘concepts’ (light green). In 2009 W3C introduced the Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS) as a standard for the creation and publication of taxonomies and thesauri. The SKOS ontology comprises only a few classes and properties. The most important types of resources are: Concept, ConceptScheme and Collection. Hierarchical relations between concepts are ‘broader’ and its inverse ‘narrower’. Thesauri most often cover also non-hierarchical relations between concepts like the symmetric property ‘related’. Every concept has at least on ‘preferred label’ and can have numerous synonyms (‘alternative labels’). Whereas a taxonomy could be envisaged as a tree, thesauri most often have polyhierarchies: a concept can be the child-node of more than one node. A thesaurus should be envisaged rather as a network (graph) of nodes than a simple tree by including polyhierarchical and also non-hierarchical relations between concepts.

2. Ontologies

Ontologies are perceived as being complex in contrast to the rather simple taxonomies and thesauri. Limitations of taxonomies and SKOS-based vocabularies in general become obvious as soon as one tries to describe a specific relation between two concepts: ‘Neil Armstrong’ is not only unspecifically ‘related’ to ‘Apollo 11′, he was ‘commander of’ this certain Apollo mission. Therefore we have to extend the SKOS ontology by two classes (‘Astronaut’ and ‘Mission’) and the property ‘commander of’ which is the inverse of ‘commanded by’.

Apollo ontology relationsThe SKOS concept with the preferred label ‘Buzz Aldrin’ has to be classified as an ‘Astronaut’ in order to be described by specific relations and attributes like ‘is lunar module pilot of’ or ‘birthDate’. The introduction of additional ontologies in order to expand expressivity of SKOS-based vocabularies is following the ‘pay-as-you-go’ strategy of the linked data community. The PoolParty knowledge modelling approach suggests to start first with SKOS to further extend this simple knowledge model by other knowledge graphs, ontologies and annotated documents and legacy data. This paradigm could be memorized by a rule named ‘Start SKOS, grow big’.

3. Knowledge Graphs

Knowledge graphs are all around (e.g. DBpedia, Freebase, etc.). Based on W3C’s Semantic Web Standards such graphs can be used to further enrich your SKOS knowledge models. In combination with an ontology, specific knowledge about a certain resource can be obtained with a simple SPARQL query. As an example, the fact that Neil Armstrong was born on August 5th, 1930 can be retrieved from DBpedia. Watch this YouTube video which demonstrates how ‘linked data harvesting’ works with PoolParty.

Knowledge graphs could be envisaged as a network of all kind things which are relevant to a specific domain or to an organization. They are not limited to abstract concepts and relations but can also contain instances of things like documents and datasets.

Why should I transform my content and data into a large knowledge graph?

The answer is simple: to being able to make complex queries over the entirety of all kind of information. By breaking up the data silos there is a high probability that query results become more valid.

With PoolParty Semantic Integrator, content and documents from SharePoint, Confluence, Drupal etc. can be tranformed automatically to integrate them into enterprise knowledge graphs.

Taxonomies, thesauri, ontologies, linked data graphs including enterprise content and legacy data – all kind of information could become part of an enterprise knowledge graph which can be stored in a linked data warehouse. Based on technologies like Virtuoso, such data warehouses have the ability to serve as a complex question answering system with excellent performance and scalability.

4. Conclusion

In the early days of the semantic web, we’ve constantly discussed whether taxonomies, ontologies or linked data graphs will be part of the solution. Again and again discussions like ‘Did the current data-driven world kill ontologies?‘ are being lead. My proposal is: try to combine all of those. Embrace every method which makes meaningful information out of data. Stop to denounce communities which don’t follow the one or the other aspect of the semantic web (e.g. reasoning or SKOS). Let’s put the pieces together – together!


July 14 2014


[CfP] Semantic Web Journal: Special Issue on Question Answering over Linked Data

Dear all,
The Semantic Web Journal is launching a special issue on Question Answering over Linked Data, soliciting original papers that
* address the challenges involved in question answering over linked data,
* present resources and tools to support question answering over linked data, or
* describe question answering systems and applications.
Submission deadline is November 30th, 2014. For more detailed information please visit:
With kind regards,
Axel Ngonga and Christina Unger

New Version of FOX

Dear all,
We are very pleased to announce a new version of FOX [1]. Several improvements have been carried out:
(1) We have fixed minor issues in the code. In addition, we have updated several libraries.
(2) As a result, the FOX output parameters have changed minimally. An exact specification of the parameters with examples is available at the demo page. [2]
(3) Moreover, we now make bindings available for Java[3] and Python[4] to use FOX’s web service within your application.
Enjoy and cheers,
The FOX team

Two Accepted Papers in the Health Sector

Two new publications by Sonja Zillner et al. have gotten accepted on international conferences. See for all project publications.
User Needs and Requirements Analysis for Big Data Healthcare Applications (MIE 2014)
The realization of big data applications that allow improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare care delivery is challenging. In order to take advantage of the promising opportunities of big data technologies, a clear understanding of user needs and requirements of the various stakeholders of healthcare, such as patients, clinicians and physicians, healthcare provider, payors, pharmaceutical industry, medical product suppliers and government, is needed.
Our study is based on internet, literature and market study research as well as on semi-structured interviews with major stakeholder groups of healthcare delivery settings. The analysis shows that big data technologies could be used to align the opposing user needs of improved quality with improved efficiency of care. However, this requires the integrated view of various heterogeneous data sources, legal frameworks for data sharing and incentives that foster collaboration.
Towards a Technology Roadmap for Big Data Applications in the Healthcare Domain (IEEE IRI HI)
Big Data technologies can be used to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery. The highest impact of Big Data applications is expected when data from various healthcare areas, such as clinical, administrative, financial, or outcome data, can be integrated. However, as of today, the seamless access to the various healthcare data pools is only possible in a very constrained and limited manner. For enabling the seamless access several technical requirements, such as data digitalization, semantic annotation, data sharing, data privacy and security as well as data quality need to be addressed. In this paper, we introduce a detailed analysis of these technical requirements and show how the results of our analysis lead towards a technical roadmap for Big Data in the healthcare domain.


Crowdsourced “Open” Innovation an Imperative for Professional Services Firms

The Financial Times’s most recent Special Report on The Connected Business inspired me to think about the imperative for law, accounting, and professional services firms (PSOs) to adopt techniques of crowdsourced open innovation methods for enhancing services delivery to their clients. Crowdsourcing in the context of innovation essentially refers to submitting problems to an open or restricted community and asking for suggestions and perhaps even joint development. Winners might even get a reward as part of a contest. In the context of PSOs, the community might be the members of a corporate legal department and partners, associates and paralegals in a law firm that traditionally has provided services to them. In an era where corporate legal departments are moving more work in-house and consolidating outsourced legal work to a smaller number of law firms, open innovation methods initiated by a law firm can help a corporate legal department refine its choice of law firm service providers more accurately. Here’s how it might work.

The law firm partner or associate responsible for a corporate legal account might identify the top challenges that the corporate legal department faces in working with outside law firms in an environment of ever more challenging regulation but dwindling budgets for managing it. The law firm might propose holding an innovation tournament (a crowdsourced innovation method) involving the law firm team and the corporate legal team to come up with ideas to address those challenges. Jointly, they would generate and vote on the best ideas. An excellent source of inspiration for all individuals taking part in the tournament and subsequent development efforts might be ideas from the Reinvent Law Laboratory.

The FT’s most recent Special Report on The Connected Business reminds us of techniques to rapidly experiment with solutions: (1) generate the best ideas from the innovation tournament; (2) design solutions; (3) rapidly prototype to test to decide to move ahead or change the design; and (4) move to production. The law firm and corporate legal department might even jointly fund a solution, working jointly with an outside vendor to help create the solution. Essentially these are the techniques identified in the very interesting book by Eric Ries, The Lean Startup. Crowdsourced open innovation initiatives involving law firm and corporate legal team members working for a joint cause can leverage the hybrid techno-legal talents in the emerging generation of lawyers, who grew up with Facebook, Google, iPods, iPads, iTunes and Amazon.

Does anyone have experience with open innovation initiatives involving PSOs and their clients? It would be great to hear from you about your experiences.


July 11 2014


Enabling Comparative Effectiveness Research with PCORnet

In the United States, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) was created by Congress as part of the Affordable Care Act (2010) to fund comparative effectiveness research. This type of research compares different treatments to determine which treatments work best for which patients. To conduct such research on a national scale, there needs to be a way to combine the data from hospitals, clinics and patients around the country. To facilitate this type of data aggregation, PCORI recently launched a clinical research network called PCORnet. This network is described in the current issue of JAMIA by the authors Fleurence, Curtis, Califf, Platt, Selby and Brown.

The network consists of two components. First, there are 11 clinical data research networks, which provide PCORnet with data from electronic health records. Second, there are 18 patient-powered research networks, each of which brings patients together who share a common condition. These patients can provide detailed data about their health histories, which data may not necessarily have been captured in electronic health records. For example, they may provide data from monitoring devices and/or mobile health applications. The patient networks are described in more detail in a second JAMIA article, which was authored by the PCORnet PPRN Consortium, Daugherty, Wahba and Fleurence.

Security and privacy are clearly important issues in this network. On the clinical data side, it appears that a distributed querying approach will be used. With this approach, the data would remain behind institutional firewalls rather than being uploaded to a central repository. Queries can be run at each site, and only the query results would be shared with the researchers. Similarly, on the patient side, each patient network would retain control of its data and only share aggregate results. Still, even with these mechanisms in place, the organizers of these networks will have to keep a laser focus on security and privacy concerns.

The network intends to engage patients heavily in its research. Patients will contribute data, participate in governance, prioritize research questions and help to disseminate results.

Now that we finally have electronic health records in most healthcare settings in the US, the next logical step is to leverage the vast amount of data in these systems, along with additional data from patients, to determine which medical treatments work best for which conditions and for which patients. It’s a very exciting future state, which may be a lot closer than we think.

July 07 2014


Closely-Held ‘Corporate Christians’ Win Crusade Against Contraceptive Coverage

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that HHS regulations requiring employer-sponsored health plans to include all FDA-approved contraceptives among the preventive services covered without cost sharing could not be applied to for-profit corporations with religious objections to some of the contraceptive methods. The Court ruled that the regulations violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that federal government requirements that substantially burden religious freedom must serve a compelling interest and be the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The Court rejected the government’s arguments that the corporate employers were separate from their owners and that for-profit organizations do not “exercise religion” (Burwell v Hobby Lobby, June 30, 2014, Alito, S).

Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, said in a statement, “Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith.”

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said, “The justices have set a dangerous precedent. While the Obama administration may arrange for the government to provide contraceptives, a future administration could easily take that away. In years to come, many women may find their access to birth control hanging by a thread.”

The Preventive Services Coverage Requirement

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) amended Public Health Service Act sec. 2713 to require employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover the preventive services rated A or B by the United States Preventive Services Task Force and any additional preventive services for women recommended in comprehensive guidelines issued by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). As Wolters Kluwer has reported, HRSA added all FDA-approved contraceptives to the list based upon the recommendations in a report by the Institute of Medicine. HHS adopted the HRSA list in a Final rule in July 2010.

The RFRA Issues

Hobby Lobby, Inc. owns a national craft store chain. Conestoga Wood Specialties, Inc. (Conestoga) owns a for-profit business manufacturing wood parts that are incorporated into the products of others. Both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are closely-held corporations owned by members of one family. The Greens, owners of Hobby Lobby and a chain of Christian bookstores called Mardel, are Christians who believe that both emergency contraception and two intrauterine devices (IUDs) cause abortion, so that coverage violates their beliefs. The Hahns, owners of Conestoga, believed that two forms of emergency contraception approved by the FDA cause abortion, so that coverage violates their Mennonite beliefs. The corporations and their individual shareholders sought injunctions against the enforcement of the contraceptive coverage mandate against them.

In both cases, the government argued that the rights of the individuals to free exercise of religion were not violated because the mandate applied to the corporations, not to them as individuals, and a fundamental principle of the law of corporations is that they are legal “persons” separate and apart from their owners. Further, the government argued, for-profit corporations do not exercise religion; they do not pray, perform sacraments, or have religious beliefs. Therefore, the corporations must be bound by the law just like any other employer of their size.

The Lower Court Decisions

Initially, the district court in Oklahoma denied Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction, and the district court in Pennsylvania denied Conestoga’s request. Both courts accepted the government’s argument that for-profit corporations do not exercise religion. Therefore, neither court found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit reversed and directed the district court to enter the injunction in favor of Hobby Lobby. The Third Circuit upheld the denial of the injunction requested by Conestoga.

The Solicitor General filed a petition for writ of certiorari for the Hobby Lobby case, asking the Supreme Court to determine whether the RFRA allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners. Conestoga also sought review in the Supreme Court, and the cases were consolidated.

Corporations as Separate Persons

The majority opinion rejected the government’s argument that closely held corporations’ legal obligations were separate from those of the owners. It framed the government’s position as forcing the owners of family businesses to choose between protection of their right to practice their faith in the operation of their business and the advantages of incorporation. The court reasoned that the corporate form exists to protect the human beings who create them and the corporation acts only through those human beings.

The Application of RFRA

The Court found that the language of the RFRA referred to “persons” but did not define the term. Therefore, the Court determined that the definition in the Dictionary Act in the U.S. Code applied “unless the context suggests otherwise.” That definition included corporations as well as partnerships, individuals, and other entities, and it did not distinguish between for-profit and other corporations.

HHS argued that the RFRA was intended to restore the state of the law as it existed before Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990). It relied on the findings in RFRA, which cited specifically to two Supreme Court decisions. Wisconsin v Yoder (406 U. S. 205 (1972)) had upheld the right of Amish parents to keep their children out of public school, and Sherbert v Werner (374 U. S. 398 (1963)) held that the state could not deny unemployment compensation to a former employee who was terminated because she would not work on the Sabbath. Both of these cases involved religious practices of individuals.

For-Profit Corporations

All parties agreed that the RFRA had been properly applied to churches organized as nonprofit corporations. The majority referred to them as nonprofit corporations and held that there was no basis for distinguishing among nonprofits or between nonprofits and for-profit corporations.

Compelling Interest Test

The RFRA requires that the federal law serve a compelling interest and provide for the least restrictive means of accomplishing that interest. The Court declined to rule on whether the government’s interest was compelling because it found that the agency did not use the least restrictive means to accomplish its goal. The agency had created an exemption for religious institutions, as defined in the tax code, and it had created an “accommodation” for certain related nonprofit entities, whereby the insurer administered the contraceptive benefit separately (76 FR 46621, August 3, 2011). The majority saw no reason why a similar accommodation could not be made for the for-profit plaintiffs.

Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion stressed that the majority was ruling only on the contraceptive coverage mandate and that the logic of the case should not be extended to other medical procedures to which employers might object, such as blood transfusions. In addition, the RFRA could not be used as a back-door means to evade antidiscrimination laws.

The Dissents

Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan dissented, guided largely by their concern for women’s health issues, as embodied in the Women’s Health Amendment to the ACA, which required coverage of preventive services specific to women. The dissent, written by Justice Ginsburg, accused the majority of stepping into a “minefield … by its immoderate reading of RFRA” and characterized the majority’s decision, one of “startling breadth,” as allowing commercial enterprises to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Incidental Effect

The dissent concluded that any Free Exercise Clause claim the plaintiffs assert is foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Smith. In Smith, two members of the Native American Church were fired from their jobs after ingesting peyote at a religious ceremony. The Court in that case held that no First Amendment violation occurs when prohibiting the exercise of religion is an incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid regulation. Justice Ginsburg asserted that the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement applies generally, is “otherwise valid,” and “trains on women’s well-being,” not on the exercise of religion, such that the effect it has on such exercise is incidental.

Interests of Third Parties

Justice Ginsburg also cited the rule that accommodations as to religious beliefs must not significantly impinge on the interests of third parties. According to the dissent, the exemption sought by the plaintiffs would override the “significant interests” of the corporations’ employees and dependents and “deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure.”

RFRA Claim

The dissent criticized the majority’s view of the RFRA. Justice Ginsburg reasoned that the RFRA reinstated the law as it was before Smith; however, the majority saw the RFRA as setting a new course departing from pre-Smith jurisprudence. The RFRA applies to government actions that “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Justice Ginsburg contended, however, that there is no support for the idea that free exercise rights apply to a for-profit corporation. While religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations, which use labor to make a profit, not perpetuate religious values. For this same reason, Justice Ginsburg disagreed with the majority’s suggestion that the accommodation afforded to nonprofit religious-based organizations be extended to commercial enterprises.

Justice Ginsburg further found that the connection between the families’ religious objections and the contraceptive coverage requirement is too attenuated to be considered “substantial,” as required by the RFRA.

Breyer and Kagan

Justices Breyer and Kagan agreed with the dissent’s conclusion that the challenge to the contraceptive coverage requirement failed on the merits but asserted that it was unnecessary to decide whether for-profit organizations may bring claims under the RFRA.

Further Response to Verdict

Lori Windham, senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and counsel for Hobby Lobby, said “This ruling will protect people of all faiths. The Court’s reasoning was clear, and it should have been clear to the government. You can’t argue there are no alternative means when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.” According to the Beckett Fund, over 100 cases against the mandate have been filed, almost equally divided between for profit and not-for-profit companies.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which also filed a friend-of-the-court brief, said that “for the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law.”

The case numbers are 13-354 and 13-356.

July 04 2014


Creating a Culture of Analytics

As we are in the middle of redesigning our ecommerce sites, we have some important choices to make. What do we consider essential and trivial – which metrics matter, how should we segment? And so I had a discussion with one of our analytics guys regarding the measurement plan and dashboarding.

An important element in the conversation was not so much the validity and interpretation of what we were doing, but how to convey the insights we have to the entire organization. The goal of what we’re doing is simple: to make ecommerce a company-wide concern.

I know the data and where to get it, how to analyze it. Many a marketer or publisher doesn’t have the same level of comfort in analytics tools as our team. And so we need to offer tools that involve everyone. Here’s how we plan to do that: three simple tools to create a culture of analytics.

Data, data everywhere

Data really is everywhere. In our case, that includes our own communications. When I was running Open Navigator, a project to gain a position in natural search results on the web, we developed a simple dashboard. My team members and I knew where to find it. But we wanted to involve the rest of the organization on a regular basis, without a podium like a company-wide presentation.

And so I decided to include a link to the project analytics dashboard in the footer of my internal emails. A very simple trick to extend our reach and inform everyone, one email at a time. Being the geeks we are, we made sure we could track clicks and behavior of those following the link. And if you don’t rank in the higher regions of the nerdy scale yourself, there’s a simple version as well: when you walk past our aisle in the office, you now see revenues and simple graphs pinned to the wall on very old-fashioned sheets of paper. Suddenly, our ‘data’ is there for everyone to see.

Want to build a dashboard yourself? Google Spreadsheets has great options to make (web-published) dashboards in an instant, or pull in your data via tools like Geckoboard.

Send simple reports, include the subtitles

The challenge with dashboards is to keep them simple. However, simple sometimes just doesn’t do. When you need more depth, reports are your answer.

Every tool for web analytics out there has reporting options that allow you to send predefined reports on a regular basis. For instance, every morning there’s a basic report waiting for me containing yesterday’s revenues and several core metrics, such as conversion and channel distribution. Use them. It’s almost zero effort to distribute reports you use yourself when a computer can do it for you.

We send the same reports to managers as well – just a standard, pre-defined report they probably wouldn’t understand if we didn’t include the subtitles.

And so we subtitle it for them. What does a drop-off rate mean, how should you interpret it?

Immediately after we sent out the first reports we noticed a shift in discussions: everyone is literally able to be on the same page.

Open it up

There’s a lot of talk about being ‘transparent’, outside and in, and I believe ‘analytics’ is your number one opportunity when it comes to that. Often I see “data” being treated as something secretive or, worse, too complex. But if you want the kids to play at your house, don’t lock away the candy.

We are very open internally, and I believe there is no reason to treat it any differently. I finished a front-to-back analysis on our webshops earlier, which I plan to release as an infographic soon – underlying data included. There for everyone to prove me wrong.

Just this week we were thinking about our check-out. There was a certain scenario that was supposed to be very important to customers, but introduced significant complexity in implementing it. Turned out it accounted for only 0.25% of cases. A simple discovery that turned a long, long discussion into a very short one.

Just open up your data to everyone across the board (internally, of course) and remind people there is probably data to help them decide or finish that discussion.

July 02 2014


Data Curation Insights: Interview with Joe Sewash, Services Program Manager at the CGIA

The fifth interview of the Data Curation Insights-series is now available on our website.

Edward Curry, BIG-member and member of the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), arranged an interview with Joe Sewash, Services Program Manager at the CGIA. He has over fifteen years of experience in the geospatial field working with public sector clients. Joe contributed to the development of the GIS Certification Institute and has participated in the development of the ISO metadata standard. In the interview, Joe talks about his background as a classically trained geographer, tools from the GIS field and about crowd sourced data in America. He also relates the US demographics shift to a shift in GIS management perspectives and its consequences. Finally, he talks about the acknowledgement of data as an infrastructure consideration as opposed to commonly held perspective of data as a commodity.

See all interviews here!

Interested in data curation news? Follow Edward Curry @EdwardACurry on Twitter.
The next interview will be published soon! Don't miss it and follow us on twitter @BIG_FP7.


Data Curation Insights: Interview with Kevin Ashley, Director of the Digital Curation Centre

The sixth interview of the Data Curation Insights-series is now available on our website.

Edward Curry, BIG-member and member of the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), arranged an interview with Kevin Ashley, director of the Digital Curation
Previously, as Head of Digital Archives at the University of London Computer Centre (1997–2010), he was responsible for a multi-disciplinary group that provided services related to the preservation and reusability of digital resources on behalf of other organisations, During the interview, Kevin talks about his background in medical research, large scale computing and data storage services and reasons, how the real advances in research are multidisciplinary.

See all interviews here!

Interested in data curation news? Follow Edward Curry @EdwardACurry on Twitter.
The next interview will be published soon! Don't miss it and follow us on twitter @BIG_FP7.


June 30 2014


Financial Times’ Special Report on Innovative Lawyers – AsiaPacific

Valuable insights appear in the recently released inaugural Special Report from the Financial Times on Innovative Lawyers in Asia-Pacific, which follow its earlier Special Reports on innovative lawyers in the US and Europe that I have blogged about in the past. The FT observes that many law firms in the Asia-Pacific are more innovative than their counterparts in the US and UK. Several factors contribute to this:

  • There are novel legal issues. China’s efforts to internationalize the renminbi requires innovative lawyering for corporate finance. Some legal systems in Asia-Pacific are based more on Civil Law whereas others come from a Common Law tradition. Many transactions span multiple countries with multiple systems, which creates a need for creative lawyering. Chinese companies need investment from investors in New York, London and Singapore. Asia-Pacific law firms are developing new legal instruments, structures and legislation that exists in no other place in the world. Corporate legal departments are organizing not only around practice areas of law but also around their corporate client’s product lines (and thus intersecting many areas of law relevant to any particular product line).
  • In the Asia-Pacific region, accounting/consultancy firms perform quasi-legal services that might be performed by law firms in other jurisdictions. Law firms in Asia-Pacific, in essence, must choose to work as competitors or collaborators.
  • Some lawyers began their careers in US or European firms, later join a firm in Asia-Pacific and combine their US and European know-how in a more complex legal environment. Synergy results. One law firm in India, Nishith Desai organizes around industry segments rather than the traditional partner-associate model. Clients pay based on their “happiness quotient” and Nishith Desai hires based on “brain count, not head count.”
  • The business and legal cultures of Asia-Pacific are changing. Increased emphasis on compliance efforts by Asia-Pacific governments means that parties to a transaction want legal advice as a regular part of doing business to structure a deal, rather than brining in lawyers only after legal disputes arise. Lawyers are viewed more as deal-enablers rather than as deal-breakers.
  • Law firm dynamics are changing. Regional firms in Asia-Pacific are innovating to take business away from global law firms. Expect more cross-border mergers of law firms in the region, similar to the merger of Australia’s Mallesons and China’s King & Wood.
  • Myanmar is opening up for foreign investment, thus requiring new legal theories and many law firms are helping to develop the legal system.

I applaud the FT’s reports. I do wish that the FT would extend the innovation rankings to all players in the value chain, including industry players such as Wolters Kluwer and legal process outsources. In the meantime, please read the report and post your thoughts. I’m eager to read what others’ insights are from the reports.

June 27 2014


Let the Lawyer Play!

Playing is one of the human needs that lasts for a lifetime. We all need to have fun and since games are fun, providing players with a positive experience, people engage with games freely (when it is not pathological gambling) and with the mere motivation to enjoy themselves. Why don’t we consider our products for professionals as they were games?

Some posts on this blog have already explored the concept of gamification in professional environments, particularly focusing on the way to engage our customers in social media. I think that also our digital products can be designed with games in mind – the user experience could largely benefit from best practices taken from the experience of playing games.

Push start to begin

Starting a game is usually very easy: one button to be pressed and the game is on. In the same way the access to our products should be clear, direct, and fast. Do not ask users to click more than once to access their products. The web page or the application should open instantly, showing the principal component to start the “game”: it could be the one search box or a list of trending topics where the user can access the needed information immediately.

Wow! This is beautiful! I cannot stop playing with it

We already discussed the concept of beauty in user interfaces, in particular we affirmed that it is mostly the utility that can bring about pleasantness. It is not just a question of user interface’s appearance and design, but it relates more to the content value and to how the content is made really usable and useful for our users.

We need to provide information structured accordingly to our users’ mental models: in other words, we need to provide content the way they expect it – using summary tables, diagrams, flowcharts, check lists, forms; any format able to reduce their cognitive effort.

Lawyers or tax & accounting professionals should play with our products! And we need to ensure that they have fun doing it.

Learn, share, socialize

Game-players, while gaining an enjoyable time, also learn, share, and form culture. Similarly, our applications for professionals need to provide tools that on one hand shorten the learning curve and on the other hand maximize the information sharing with colleagues – in the same firm or not – and with their clients. I’m referring to practical examples such as “interactive text” with in context calculations (such as in this website), and also to current awareness and knowledge management systems, as my esteemed colleague John Barker reported several times in his posts.

Game over

At the end of their journey with our applications, lawyers need to feel satisfied. Our applications should help users in fulfilling their goals, in rewarding, and help them be happy with the completed tasks.

What applications for professionals can learn from games is to pay attention to what the user is trying to do. It is the same old story: it is not about the user interface; it is about the user’s needs.

Would you like to play a game for work?

June 26 2014


JTC1 report on BIG input

The ISO/IEC JTC1 SGBD has finished their 2nd meeting report that features a summary of the BIG presentation in Amsterdam (see above).

The SGBD Comments: (read the full report) "The presentation is valuable for future potential SGBD Big Data standard development and reference; SGBD would accept it as input to the 2nd SGBD meeting with an "N" number assigned to it. Furthermore, SGBD agreed to further request text input into specific areas of the Draft Report to JTC 1 V2.0 from presenters as contributions to the 3rd meeting."


D2.2.2 Final Version of Technical White Paper available

The final version of the technical whitepaper of deliverable 2.2.2 is available now. It details the results from the Data Value Chain Technical Working groups describing the state of the art in each part of the chain together with emerging technological trends for exploiting Big Data. It is an amalgamation of the results of the challenges in regards to big data in different sectors and working groups. The Data Value Chain identifies activities in Data Acquisition, Data Analysis, Data Curation, Data Storage and Data Usage.
A member of the BIG Health forum comments: "We interviewed experts in the biomedical domain to ask for their opinion about the current situation in data acquisition and data quality. We identified challenges that need to be addressed for establishing the basis for BIG health data applications. Additionally, the current data quality challenges were diagnosed and are reported in the deliverable."


AKSW Colloquium “Combination of Topic Modeling and Semantic Web” on Monday, June 30

Combination of Topic Modeling and Semantic Web

On Monday, June 30, at 3.00 p.m. in room Paulinum 702, Michael Röder will present his yearly PhD progress report “Combination of Topic Modeling and Semantic Web”. The presentation addresses the usage of Topic Modeling in the area of Semantic Web. We will focus a use case in which topic models shall be used to recommend similar RDF datasets for a given dataset.

About the AKSW Colloquium

This event is part of a series of events about Semantic Web technology. Please see for further information about previous and future events. As always, Bachelor and Master students are able to get points for attendance and there is complimentary coffee and cake after the session.


AKSW Colloquium Guest Talk “SWeeT Web of Heritage” on Wednesday, July 2

SWeeT Web of Heritage

On Wednesday, July 2, at 1.30 p.m. in room P702, T B Dinesh from Janastu, a non-profit organisation providing free open source software, will present the SWeeT Web of Heritage.

Dinesh has a computer science background (Univ Iowa and CWI, NL) and is a founder member of Janastu and International Institute of Art Culture and Democracy in Bangalore, India. Janastu engages in technology research and support for other non-profit, issue based, organizations. IIACD engages in digital humanities, living heritage and community health. We network with pastoral communities developing frameworks for community-managed knowledge, supporting AIDS advocacy programs, post-tsunami rehabilitation, biodiversity and environmental groups, craft communities and open source support for non-profit organizations.


Our journey into SWeeTs (“Semantic Web tweeTs”) started with the work on the Re-narration Web which attempts to bridge the gap in web accessibility discourses in addressing the needs of non-literate web users. Heritage Knowledge Bank is an application of this, that we will also discuss, that is being developed for the Indian Digital Heritage project.

About the AKSW Colloquium

This event is part of a series of events about Semantic Web technology. Please see for further information about previous and future events. As always, Bachelor and Master students are able to get points for attendance and there is complimentary coffee and cake after the session.

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