Tutorial to be held on November 12th 2012, in Boston (USA) during the International Semantic Web Conference.

Linked Data have by-and-large been designed around centralized, powerful Web servers and the (mobile) clients accessing them. As a direct consequence of these design decisions, the usage of data-sharing technologies depends on the availability of a Web infrastructure comprised of data-centers, high-speed, reliable Internet connections, and modern client devices. Four-billion people currently have no access to such an infrastructure and are thus deprived of the benefits Linked (Open) Data provides.

This tutorial will show how the design principles and technologies of Linked Data can be adapted to distributed networks, and thus contribute to closing this “digital data divide”. Join us to learn how not to forget the majority of the world population when thinking of the potential users of Linked Data and discuss the challenges this represents for the research community.

The tutorial in a few words

“Linked Data for Development” (LD4D) is a sub-topic of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D), referring to the specifics of using Linked Data principles in developing countries. This tutorial is about the need for establishing such technology and the potential usages of it. Participants will learn more about the specific challenges of ICT4D and play around with some technologies being developed to tackle these challenges. The schedule for the day:

09:00 – 10:30 ICT4D
10:30 – 11:00 break
11:00 – 12:30 LD4D
12:30 – 14:00 lunch
14:00 – 15:30 Towards LD4D based systems
15:30 – 16:00 break
16:00 – 17:30 Hands on session

Detailed schedule

The tutorial consists of three parts: first, an in-depth discussion of the societal, cultural and technological problems related to ICT4D, secondly, a hands-on requirement analysis given two practical applications of Linked Data technology in developing countries (a social network application for schools in remote areas (running on XO laptops) and an application for markets of agricultural products), and finally, a brief practical part on programming Linked Data applications under resource bounds to show potential problems existing technology and some novel solutions. The tutorial concludes on the hands on session where participants will get more acquainted with ICT4D and LD4D technologies.

1 – ICT4D (9h-10h30)

Introduction about the day and ICT4D

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are a great tool to support information flows in our society. They enable to share, store and process and increasing amount of information thereby leading to business opportunities and societal improvements. They can be used to improve the living conditions of poor and marginalised people if these are used to address the information needs they have.

During this tutorial we will discuss some of these information needs and highlight the specifics about using ICT in rural areas of the World. We will especially focus on data sharing needs, situating the role of the Semantic Web in this context. The tutorial concludes with a mini-hackathon to give to the participants the opportunity to get acquainted with adapted ICT technologies.

OLPC and Sugar

The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child. But this is not a laptop project, it is an education project whose goal is to provide a mean for learning, self-expression, and exploration to the nearly two billion children of the developing world with little or no access to education.

This goal is achieved with the graphical and learning environment “Sugar” that runs on the laptops provided by OLPC. Sugar is organised around activities that can be shared among the young learners to foster collaborative learning. The source code of all the activities is directly accessible from the interface to allow to see “behind the scenes” and get a better understanding of how things work. Another particularity of Sugar is a Journal that log the usage of activities, this information can then be used by the teachers to reflect upon, and influence, the (social) usage patterns of everyone in the classroom.

2 – LD4D (11:00 – 12:30)

Case-study example: Sharing market prices and agricultural techniques in Sub-saharan regions

In sub-saharian region of Africa, the desert is gaining ground against farming land. This phenomenon is partially due to the harvest of timber for the the local commerce but is also a result of current farming techniques which are not optimal for the climate context. The dissemination of innovative farming techniques able to make better use of the scared resources is tricky. Another societal challenge is the incentive for moving over to non-timber production.

W4RA is an ICT4D initiative focusing on helping farmers sharing farming techniques and improving the revenue they derive from non-timber products.

The specific challenges of this problems are:

  • The variety of languages spoken in the region (let alone the local dialects)

  • The distance between the different agricultural exploitations

  • The generally low level of literacy

The things to take advantage of are:

  • Very common usage of community local radios

  • Working word of mouth

  • Increasing penetration of basic mobile phones

Why is Linked Data a good fit for data sharing in this context ?

Linked Data is a powerful way to express and interconnect facts in a free and scalable way. In light with the requirements highlighted before, we can note the following advantages:

  • De-centralised authoring: Linked Data allows for a de-centralized data authoring. Traditionally, the edition of a central data set (for instance about market prices) would be approach through a central server hosting the common knowledge base. Considering the challenges previously highlighted, this is difficult to apply in regions of the World with poor connectivity, a multiplicity of languages and low literacy.

  • Multi-lingual support: RDF is naturally fit to allow for multilinguality. The format enables the indication of language tags for literals and the links are established between unique identifiers rather than ambiguous strings.

  • Slicing: Because it is essentially a list of edges, RDF can be split into several chunks. The usage of named graphs make it possible to bundle a set of triples with provenance information and ship that payload around. This ease the distributed authoring process. Also convenient for splitting a big data set into smaller chunks that fit on low-range servers.

But Linked Data is also based on, and limited by!, the Web. There are research challenges ahead to better adapt this technology to the specific usage contexts in developing countries.

3 – Towards LD4D based systems (14:00 – 15:30)

Coding for Sugar with a focus on collaboration

Sugar provides a collaboration back end to enable interactive joint activities on the XO. As an example, everyone using the “Draw” activity in a shared context can collaboratively draw on a share canva in real time. This technical goodies part will describe how this work and how to use such feature.

Using a swarm of micro triple stores

The synchronous communication channels from Sugar are sometime not sufficient for some use-case. SemanticXO has been developed to provide an asynchronous, structured data based, communication channels that the activities can use to share data even when they are not in use. This second part will describe how this is implemented and illustrate what can be done with it.


RadioMarché and Foroba Blon make use of Voice based interaction technologies to give access to data sharing platforms to people who did not add the opportunity to learn how to read, and write. As this will be shown during this third section, building up a simple voice interface instead or parallel to a form-based is not that difficult.

4- Hands on! (16:00 – 17:30)

During the hackathon the participants will be invited to develop an activity for the Sugar that gather & display information from all the other SemanticXO enabled Sugar instances running on the network. We take these 30 minutes to explain the goals and form the groups.

Speakers and Organizers

Dr. Christophe Guéret [c.d.m.gueret@vu.nl]

Christophe Guéret is a postdoctoral researcher working on the publication and consumption of Linked Data, the analysis of complex data networks, and the interplay between Semantic Web challenges and Computational Intelligence techniques. He is currently leading the SemanticXO project, which aims to provide an infrastructure to support data-driven processes for the XO computers in the context of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative.

Dr. Stefan Schlobach [k.s.schlobach@vu.nl]

Stefan Schlobach is an Assistant Professor working on using non-standard techniques and alternative Semantics for the Semantic Web. Recently he has been involved in the SemanticXO project that aims at extending the functionality of OLPC’s XO laptop with Semantic technology. He is currently co-developing the first ICT4D course in a Dutch Computer Science Master program, and a targeted trainings programme for supporting XO deployment in Peru.

Dr. Victor de Boer [v.de.boer@vu.nl]

Victor de Boer is a postdoctoral researcher working within the Web alliance for Regreening in Africa effort on the EU VOICES, LinkedIDS and IPI “Furoba Blon” projects. Within these projects, he develops methods and technologies to bring the Web of Data to local people in developing countries, combining Linked Data and voice technologies.

Walter Bender [walter.bender@gmail.com]

Walter Bender is founder of Sugar Labs, a non-profit foundation. In 2006, Bender co-founded the One Laptop per Child, a non-profit association with Nicholas Negroponte and Seymour Papert. As director of the MIT Media Laboratory, Bender led a team of researchers in fields as varied as tangible media to affective computing to lifelong kindergarten. In 1992, Bender founded the MIT News in the Future consortium, which launched the era of digital news.

Bernie Innocenti [bernie@codewiz.org]

Bernie Innocenti is a Linux software engineer and systems administrator who volunteers for OLPC since 2007. In 2009, Bernie co-founded Sugar Labs, a community-led project to promote world-wide access to free and open education through a constructionist computing environment for young learners. Since then, Bernie worked on-site with the engineering teams of several OLPC deployments to improve Sugar and the underlying Linux platform.


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