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GATE Teamware: Collaborative Annotation Factories

1. Introduction

Semantic Annotation (SA) is about attaching meaningful structures to resources like documents or video streams in such a way that they can be used by computers to enhance the usefulness of those resources.

SA is not new: when a BBC archivist, for example, attaches thesaurus categories to programme segments for indexing they have performed semantic annotation. SA technology has changed, however, in two main ways:

These developments are now leading to a new breed of consumer services that rely on SA extracted from the web by automatic means. When combined with structured data sources SA can meet a variety of emerging needs for enhanced knowledge management, security and access. Examples include

The requisite annotation can be done manually, and this works well in cases like flikr and delicio.us where the annotators benefit directly from their own work (creating their own "folksonomies"). In other cases, where the task is simple and the domain of application specific, automatic annotation can work to an acceptable accuracy level (and a number of state-of-the-art systems of this type are available in GATE). Where neither of these things is true what is needed is an Annotation Factory, which combines multiple technologies, staff roles and processes in order to reduce the cost of annotation to acceptable levels.

Current annotation systems address one or more of the issues for annotation factories, but none until now have had wide coverage, and few have addressed the workflow and methodological questions, or defined how to go about deciding exactly what kind of annotation process is appropriate for a given business case. GATE Teamware is a software suite and methodology for implementing annotation factories that covers these issues.

If you want to trial early versions of Teamware, see our notes on GATE customisation services. Teamware development is also linked with OntoText KIM, a leading GATE-based semantic annotation system. Our first users include Harvard Medical School's Computational Biology Initiative and the MUSING project. We're now building a bigger system for Matrixware and the IRF.

1.1. Background

Information Extraction (IE) is the technology that makes annotation of large document collections feasible (see http://gate.ac.uk/sale/ell2/ie for details of what IE systems can do and the accuracy levels of the current state of the art). IE has improved in recent years to the degree that commercial deployment is now becoming common, but it remains an imperfect and potentially costly process. In order to exploit it effectively application developers often need to implement a process that we may call an Annotation Factory.

A modern factory engaged in the production of high-tech goods combines a large degree of automation with skilled labour of various types and quantities. Robots often play a significant role, although they are never altogether unaccompanied: at the very least service engineers must attend their operation, and in most cases there will also be staff who take care of reconfiguring robotic equipment for new product lines or refinements to the existing processes and products. The same is true of annotation factories: a number of different types of human involvement are required, from the initial specification process through maintenance and evolution. Current IE tools have not addressed the methodological, multi-role and process elements of annotation factories.

Teamware is a software suite and a methodology for the implementation and support of annotation factories. It is intended to provide a framework for commercial annotation services, supplied either as in-house units or as outsourced specialist activities.

There are a number of different types of staff required for an effective annotation factory including

Teamware defines the support tools for these different roles, and the workflow by which they may combine with automatic IE systems to provide cost-effective annotation services.

The rest of this document discusses the novelty of the work, and looks in more detail at staff roles in annotation factories. See also this talk at the Salzburg eCulture symposium.

1.2. Novelty

Teamware is a novel development in several respects:

The rest of this section addresses these points in turn.

1.2.1. Unifying Adaptation Interventions for Custom Extraction Services

Information Extraction (IE) is the process of automatically analysing text (and, less often, speech) to populate fixed-format, unambiguous data structures such as spreadsheets, semantic repositories, link-analysis engines or databases. An IE system is a dynamic object which represents a compromise between information need and development cost. Almost never do the information need and the data remain static. Therefore applications software using IE has to provide a mechanism to tailor the extraction components to new information needs and to new types of data. Up to now, no single mechanism has been discovered that covers all cases, meaning that IE software has to support a wide spectrum of adaptation interventions, from skilled computational linguists through content administrators and technical authors to unskilled end-users providing behavioural exemplars. In each area significant research streams exist and have made good progress over the past decade or so. What has not been done is to construct a unified environment in which all the different adaptation interventions work together in a complementary manner.

The three principal mechanisms for IE adaptation in leading HLT research streams are:

In addition, underlying the adaptation process are automated measurement and visualisation tools, and frequency-based document search (or information retrieval) tools.

Teamware brings these methods and tools together and thus reduces the cost of Custom Extraction Services (CuES) to within the reach of a much larger set of applications.

1.2.2. Beyond Language Engineering

GATE has both a class library for programmers embedding LE in applications and a development environment for skilled language engineers. Teamware, however, has to support a wider constituency of users. There are two main cases.

First, annotation of training data for learning algorithms should be a task requiring little skill beyond that of a computer-literate person (because training data volumes are typically large and therefore the labour involved has to be cheap to make the process economic). For the same reason the annotation environment should be made as productive as possible, for example by bootstrapping the annotation process with mixed-initiative learning and by providing a voting mechanism for multiple simultaneous annotators (this is necessary to guarantee quality with low-skilled staff).

Second, data curation or systems administration staff may become involved in customising extraction systems. These types of people take a training course of a week or two, and are expected to use a richer toolset, including things like ANNIC-based JAPE rule authoring.

Teamware supports all these cases.

1.2.3. IE: the Missing Manual

Extraction is not an application in itself, but a component of information seeking and management tasks. Despite the breadth and depth of literature describing algorithms, evaluation protocols and performance statistics for IE the technology lacks a clear statement of how to go about specifying and implementing IE functionality for a new task or domain. In the same way that GATE is not just an implementation but also an abstract architecture, so Teamware can increase its impact by defining a methodology.

The methodology covers:

1.3. User profiles

The applications context of Teamware suggest different types of user profiles:

Depending on the context, a user could have more than one profile, being for instance both Language Engineer and Information Curator.

1.3.1. Annotators

Annotators are in charge of annotating entities, relations or events on a set of documents with regard to an ontology or to a flat list of categories. They must be able to access the documents remotely on the web. The annotated documents can be stored directly or used to bootstrap a Machine Learning system. The Annotator interface includes some information about the number of remaining documents to be annotated and a basic messaging system for interacting with an Information Curator.

Different Annotators may work on a single corpus in order to speed up the process of annotation. They may annotate the same documents, in order to make sure that the quality of the annotation is optimal, and to evaluate Annotator performance.

A Mixed Initiative system can be set up by an Information Curator or a Language Engineer and used by an Annotator. This means that once a document has been annotated manually, it will be used to generate a Machine Learning (ML) model. This model will then be applied on any new document, so that this document will be partially or totally annotated. The Annotator validates or corrects the annotations provided by the ML system. This makes the annotation task much faster.

1.3.2. Language Engineers

Language Engineers have some knowledge of linguistic engineering, thus they are able to create or modify a set of linguistic resources. Unlike the annotators, these staff work on resources producing automatic annotations. These resources are combined to produce a service. Like the Annotators, Language Engineers can be located in different parts of the world, and thus they access the Teamware system remotely. Many of the tools used here are directly derived from GATE.

1.3.3. Information Curators

Information Curators are in charge of the day-to-day running and maintenance of the system. This involves liaising with Language Engineers, marshalling Annotators and performing quality control. They may also perform customisation and adaptation tasks, depending on level of knowledge and dynamism of the information need. Information Curators can get information about the performances of Teamware component services (e.g. by keeping a part of the data for evaluation) or about performance of the manual annotation. The latter means that the Information Curator will be informed if one of the Annotators provides annotations which systematically differ from the other Annotators. In this way a better explanation of the task could be sent to the Annotator.