Section: Research Program


Our ability to acquire or generate, store, process, interlink and query data has increased spectacularly over the last few years. The corresponding advances are commonly grouped under the umbrella of so called Big Data. Even if the latter has become a buzzword, these advances are real, and they are having a profound impact in domains as varied as scientific research, commerce, social media, industrial processes or e-government. Yet, looking ahead, emerging technologies related to what we now call the Web of Data (a.k.a the Semantic Web) have the potential to create an even larger revolution in data-driven activities, by making information accessible to machines as semistructured data [28] that eventually becomes actionable knowledge. Indeed, novel Web data models considerably ease the interlinking of semi-structured data originating from multiple independent sources. They make it possible to associate machine-processable semantics with the data. This in turn means that heterogeneous systems can exchange data, infer new data using reasoning engines, and that software agents can cross data sources, resolving ambiguities and conflicts between them [71]. Datasets are becoming very rich and very large. They are gradually being made even larger and more heterogeneous, but also much more useful, by interlinking them, as exemplified by the Linked Data initiative [47].

These advances raise research questions and technological challenges that span numerous fields of computer science research: databases, communication networks, security and trust, data mining, as well as human-computer interaction. Our research is based on the conviction that interactive systems play a central role in many data-driven activity domains. Indeed, no matter how elaborate the data acquisition, processing and storage pipelines are, data eventually get processed or consumed one way or another by users. The latter are faced with large, increasingly interlinked heterogeneous datasets (see, e.g., Figure 1) that are organized according to complex structures, resulting in overwhelming amounts of both raw data and structured information. Users thus require effective tools to make sense of their data and manipulate them.

Figure 1. Linking Open Data cloud diagram from 2007 to 2014 – http://lod-cloud.net

We approach this problem from the perspective of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) field of research, whose goal is to study how humans interact with computers and inspire novel hardware and software designs aimed at optimizing properties such as efficiency, ease of use and learnability, in single-user or cooperative work contexts. More formally, HCI is about designing systems that lower the barrier between users' cognitive model of what they want to accomplish, and computers' understanding of this model. HCI is about the design, implementation and evaluation of computing systems that humans interact with [52], [73]. It is a highly multidisciplinary field, with experts from computer science, cognitive psychology, design, engineering, ethnography, human factors and sociology.

In this broad context, ILDA aims at designing interactive systems that display [37], [59], [80] the data and let users interact with them, aiming to help users better navigate and comprehend large webs of data represented visually, as well as relate and manipulate them.

Our research agenda consists of the three complementary axes detailed in the following subsections. Designing systems that consider interaction in close conjunction with data semantics is pivotal to all three axes. Those semantics will help drive navigation in, and manipulation of, the data, so as to optimize the communication bandwidth between users and data.