Posts Tagged ‘linked data’

Towards an Emerging CS Student Community for Regreening Africa: Random Impressions of our First Workshop

April 22, 2012

Group photo of the First Web alliance for Regreening in Africa Student mini-symposium

Two years after the kick off (reported here), we are gaining a lot of momentum with the Regreening Africa initiative.

Last Friday, 20 April, we organized a first mini workshop with master students who are conducting their master thesis project in the context of a Web for Regreening Africa. The Web Alliance for Regreening Africa initiative is primarily  funded by two running EC-funded research projects W4RA and m-Voices. However, regarding the societal relevance we are convinced we can deliver a convincing bargain for  a larger community of interest to emerge. We have many communities in mind; this workshop aimed at a community at VU of master/PhD students branching their research out from the central theme, but we also have established social networks such as Diaspora and ITGlobal in mind from which we aim to source content contributions.

Our main goal, hence bargain, is to establish a Web of African content through several microprojects. A selection:

  • crowdsourcing app for converting pluvial observation data in the Sahel;
  • crowdsourcing app for gathering voice fragments in different languages that can be used for voice-based services
  • a sustainability analysis for voice-based event organizer;
  • RadioMarché: distributed market information system for non-timber tree forest products;
  • linked data mash ups for NGOs.

This workshop was a first step in bringing VU Computer Science students’ projects together from Ghana, Ethiopia, Buthan, Iran, Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Suriname, etc. For an overview of the different lines we are exploring check our CAiSE 2012 position paper and ESWC 2012 poster and paper (to be published soon, see list below). Next, some impression from the projects. From my point of view, the meeting was a succes and we agreed to organize a second installment later this year.

Master students from around the Globe: The Netherlands, Iran, Buthan, Zimbabwe / South Africa, and Ethiopia.

Historical pluvial data from regions in the Sahel captured on paper. Binyam Tesfa develops an app to source a crowd willing to convert this data into digital format.

In order to realise voice-based services for various dialects present in the Sahel, Roksareh Nakhaei builds an app that sources a crowd to produce voice fragments. The tasks here require specific language skills, so we cannot source from any general social network such as Facebook.


A mobile event organiser is one of the case studies identified in the m-Voices project. Through voice-based interfaces (using radio or phone) events can be published and consumed. The goal of this project, done by Albert Chifura is to analyse the cost of setting up such infrastructure, hence involvin a "business" sustainability model analysis.


First design of a sustainability assessment of M-event organiser identifying stakeholders and value exchange between them (courtesy of Albert Chifura).

Related publications:

  • Bon, A.; de Boer, V.; De Leenheer, P.; van Aart, C.; Gyan, N.; Akkermans, H. (2012)  The Web of Radios – Introducing African Community Radio as an Interface to the Web of Data. In Proc. of ESWC 2012: 1st Int’l Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web, LNCS, Springer, to appear
  • de Boer, V.; Gyan, N.; Bon, De Leenheer, P.; van Aart, C.; Gyan, N.; Akkermans, H. (2012) Voice-based Access to Linked Market Data in the Sahel. In Proc. of ESWC 2012: 1st Int’l Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web, LNCS, Springer, to appear
  • de Boer, V.; De Leenheer, P.; Bon, A.; van Aart, C.; Tuyp, W., Boyera, S.; Allen, M.; Akkermans, H.; Gueret, C. (2012) RadioMarché: Distributed Voice- and Web-interfaced Market Information Systems under Rural Conditions. In Proc. of CAiSE 2012, in press

RadioMarche ́: Distributed Voice- and Web-interfaced Market Information Systems under Rural Conditions

February 20, 2012

The World Wide Web connects millions of people and organizations, empowering them to socialize, express opinion, and co-create at a scale and speed never seen before. It was not a carefully top-down planning, but a set of elementary internet technologies designed for de-centralized use that allowed for a Web with such a dramatic level of complexity and scale to emerge in less than two decades. Examples of such technologies are W3C-recommended open standards such as HTTP, HTML or RDF. By carefully excluding features that are not universally useful these technologies became easily adopted on a massive scale and gave the Web a generative character, that is, the capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from a broad and varied audience [Zittrain, 2009].

Implementation of the RadioMarché system in Tominian, Mali. This figure shows part of the hardware setup, including the OfficeRoute GSM gateway.

An upcoming trend is to publish structured data from different sources such as governments (e.g., and and organizations (such as public transport schemas, scientific results, etc.) using the same internet technologies such as HTTP and URI. The Web of Data emerging from this is an extension of the Web: it serves the data using Linked Data approaches so that machines can process them, rather than merely publishing them for human consumption. By treating data as an asset, by sharing and trading it, an open innovation platform for all kinds of services will flourish, linking and augmenting data across domains.

Despite its success so far, the Web implicitly assumes a wide availability of high- bandwidth Internet infrastructure and reliable power supply. Interfacing the Web requires Personal Computers and various skills of which the most pertinent are reading and writing abilities. According to the Web Foundation, there is an estimated 4.5 billion people, mostly living in developing countries, that cannot benefit from the Web for one or more of these reasons. This limits the Web’s generative character per se. For our case study in Mali, only 1.8% of the population has Internet access, only 10% has access to the electricity network, and only 26.2% is literate (source: Internet World StatisticsDeveloping RenewablesIndex Mundi).

For a truly worldwide diffusion of innovations brought forward by the Web, we must devise new types of technologies immune to these infrastructure and interface problems. Hence, complementary or even alternative technologies to the ones we know are needed. Moreover, to guarantee these technologies will be applied and content will be contributed on a large scale, we have to identify value propositions that are interesting enough for a wider audience.

The proposition we consider in this paper is targeted at reducing poverty and hunger in Sub-Saharian Africa through better agricultural and rural development. According to the International Food Policy Institute, small subsistence farmers account for more than 90% of Africa’s agricultural production and are usually at the very bottom of the pyramid. In Africa, agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 65% of the population, it represents 40% of Africa’s GDP and 60% of Africa’s total export. Farmers who can count on different sources of income are less vulnerable in periods of drought. Trading is the best way to increase their income; to this end, better communication and access to customers and market information are key challenges. Our focus now lies on non-timber forest products (NTFPs) because they have a very long tradition and their production involves leadership by men as well as women.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, market information systems (MISs) play an important role in rural agricultural supply chains and are the key to lower food cost and to raising producer and trader incomes (see FAO). MISs are information systems that gather, analyze and publish information about prices and other augmented information relevant to stakeholders involved in handling agricultural products and services. Indeed, farmers have to know the trends in demand to adapt production, find out where to find customers, and be able to determine a reasonable price by comparing with prices from other markets. Hence, there is an urgent need for effective and fair marketing delivered by transparent information. Moreover, costs related to logistics are usually ignored. However, farmers at remote locations have to focus on products that can weigh up for such high prices implied by production as well as transportation costs. Opportunities for innovation through new cultivation techniques, new types of seeds, or by-products remain under-exploited due to a lack of market information needed to deal with the higher production costs.

RadioMarché is being developed within the context of the VOICES (VOIce-based Comunity cEntric mobile Services) project. The conceptual design of the RadioMarché system is shown below.

The RadioMarché system provides alternative interfaces based on voice or SMS via phone or radio, enabling a wider audience to consume and contribute content. The data design is optimized for (i) effective aggregation with other RM instances and data sources from other domains in the Cloud; and (ii) reuse by other services.

The contributions of this paper are :

  • The introduction of RadioMarché (RM), a MIS concept adapted for rural conditions in the African Sahel. Regarding the above-mentioned challenges, RM is not dependent on Internet infrastructure, and has voice-based and sms-based interfaces. By exploiting the upward trend in (first-generation) mobile phone usage and the traditionally central role of radio in these areas, we believe in the generativity; hence a wide adoption of the RM concept in many regions of the Sahel.
  • The proposition of a Linked Data model to address data integration issues across different regions. On a large scale, we deal with the issue of aggregation and management of distributed market data by adopting Linked Data approaches. We show how our design choices offers opportunities to link aggregated market information to datasets from other domains. The resulting “Web of Data” provides an open innovation platform to develop services with augmented reasoning capabilities for e.g. NGOs, governments, policy makers, traders and scientists.
  • A report on a first deployement of RadioMarché conducted in Mali, along with the explanation of the Living Lab approach applied to drive this activity. 

The full position paper will be published  in the proceedings of CAiSE 2012.

de Boer, V.; De Leenheer, P.; Bon, A.; van Aart, C.; Tuyp, W., Boyera, S.; Allen, M.; Akkermans, H.; Gueret, C. (2012) RadioMarché: Distributed Voice- and Web-interfaced Market Information Systems under Rural Conditions. In Proc. of CAiSE 2012

Exploiting the Clash between Customer Needs and Service Offerings in Value Co-creation

May 18, 2011

The Web is transforming into a global market place: a Service Web. In this context, mechanisms for dynamic delivery and even co-creation of services (as opposed to products; hence not to be mis-understood by software-based services) face new challenges. As we show in our case study, the Web provides already a lot of public data that can be exploited in this regard; hence this may further encourage Linked Data initiatives too as their work proves highy useful value in the digitalization of transparant value co-creation.

Indeed, the adoption of Web 2.0 within electronic commerce resulted in a more personalised user experience. this customer experience is digitized through recommendations and reviews (e.g., and product customisations (e.g. Quirky), etc. This provides benefit to other users, but also provides intangible value back to the enterprise. The co-creation of value arose from this personalised, unique consumer experience and represents a transition from simple transactional models of customers buying tangible goods or services, to purchases being only a small part of a long-term synergistic experience that also yields the creation and exchange of other forms of intangible value such as community, knowledge, etc.

Yet the scalability of these co-creation platforms  is limited as traditional approaches for developing co-creation opportunities, such as service bundling and community building have relied heavily on existing or opportunistic business relationships that are highly integrated instead of loosely coupled.

This article contributes another step in the dynamic bundling of services that exploits the clash between – and envisions the co-evolution of – customer needs and service offerings. The case is about automating the bundling of educational services in a multi-supplier setting. The experiments act on publicly available instance data about education-related needs and services we found on the Web. This also illustrates that the necessary data is indeed available for a Service Web to emerge and more data publication efforts are needed for a true Service Web to emerge.

We highlight the following mechanisms:

  • Laddering: is a marketing practice which uses a conceptual map to represent how a customer links desired product or service attributes to high-level values he/she desires . E.g., see Figure below: the need to  “improve programming skills” can be decomposed in specific functional consequences (which we were able to crawl from the Web). these can then be logically grouped in Wants. Wants may not yet be offered by concrete suppliers; they represent (based on the Wisdom of the Crowds) a certain combination of needs that is emerging on the market.


  • Matching: Matching determines a matching pool of service suppliers that plausibly provide part of the desired Want. Due to the variability of customer needs, single suppliers rarely provide all the required value on their own. Providers may anticipate on Wants as they trigger trends.
  • Bundling: Bundling finds combinations of service suppliers (again crawled from real data) in the matching pool that collectively cover the required Want, hence deliver maximum value to the customer. Different principles or policies of interactions are key during bundling as they may constrain the possible collaboration between suppliers.


The full article will be available soon with following citation:

Razo-Zapata, I.; De Leenheer, P.; Gordijn, J. (2011) Value-based Service Bundling: a Customer-Supplier Approach. In Proc.  of Service-oriented Enterprise Architecture for Enterprise Engineering (SoEA4EE) Scientific Workshop (EDOC 2011), Helsinki, Finland, IEEE