SAGE Ocean announces its first ever concept grant winners

SAGE Ocean has announced the winners of its first ever Concept Grants: Kenneth Benoit from Quanteda Studio, Tommaso Venturini, Jonathan Gray, and Guillaume Pique from MiniVAN, and Stefano Cresci and Maurizio Tesconi from Digital DNA Toolbox. Each winner has been awarded $35,000 to support the development of their project.

The Concept Grant Program is a key part of the SAGE Ocean initiative to enable social scientists to work with big data and new technology. The grants will support product innovation within social research and help turn nascent software ideas into reality. Each grant provides up to $35,000 of funding for early stage ideas to help social researchers engage with new computational methods and analyse data at scale.

Martha Sedgwick, Executive Director of Product Management at SAGE said,

"We were overwhelmed by the response to our call for applications and with many strong wide-ranging proposals to consider, the decision making process was extremely difficult. However, after much deliberation we selected the three winners based on their novel ideas, broad appeal and potential to have a real impact on the social research community.

Each idea offers something valuable and unique, and will help further our overall goal of enabling more social scientists to access the tools they need to work with big data. We are proud to be able to support the development of these three fantastic pieces of software through the Concept Grants program."

The winners:

Quanteda Studio, LSE, UK

Quanteda Studio is being developed by Kenneth Benoit from the London School of Economics, the creator of quanteda and an expert applications and methods of text analysis for the social sciences. This new tool will make the power of quanteda widely accessible, enabling social scientists to access and use the package's text analytics capabilities through a graphical user interface that requires no programming.

Quanteda Studio is designed to be a powerful, flexible, and user-friendly text analytic software tool that requires no programming experience to use and will run as a web application. "Quanteda" is short for the quantitative analysis of textual data, and this new application will be built on the power of the open-source quanteda R package for processing and analyzing text.

Text mining and text analytics has exploded in recent years. Technically able data scientists have a wealth of sophisticated tools for mining information from the troves of available textual data, in the form of computer programming languages and software libraries written for those environments. The downside of this sophistication, however, is that users with no programming experience in R, Python, or Java have no access to these tools.

MiniVAN, Public Data Lab, FR/UK

MiniVAN is being developed by Tommaso Venturini, Jonathan Gray and Guillaume Pique from the Public Data Lab (PDL), a European network of researchers which seeks to facilitate research, democratic engagement and public debate around the future of the data society. SAGE Publishing partnered with the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath to support the establishment of the Public Data Lab in 2017. MiniVAN will be an easy-to-use tool that will support non-specialist social scientists in the visual analysis of their networks and in the online publication of their results.

Networks are becoming increasingly popular in the social sciences as interfaces for exploratory data analysis. The "Visual Analysis of Networks" (VAN) allows academics to explore large relational datasets without having to deal with the full complexity of graph mathematics. A key barrier remains, however, for the adoption of this approach: current VAN tools are either too complicated or unable handle the growing size of the datasets that are typical in the digital social sciences.

MiniVAN aims to solve this problem by providing a tool for the visual analysis of networks that is accessible to academics with little knowledge of mathematics or coding and yet able to scale up to output graphs containing hundreds of thousands of nodes.

The MiniVAN project will draw on the team's previous open source projects, including Gephi, Sigmajs and Graphology – and will form part of this ecosystem of tools. In line with the Public Data Lab's spirit of openness, the PDL is seeking to develop MiniVAN in collaboration with the digital social science community. If you have any ideas or needs for this tool, please get in touch via [email protected]

Digital DNA Toolbox (DDNA), IIT-CNR, IT

DDNA is being developed by Stefano Cresci and Maurizio Tesconi from the Institute for Informatics and Telematics, Italian National Research Council.

The Digital DNA Toolbox will use bioinformatics techniques to provide researchers with a set of cutting-edge tools that can be used for many things, including assessing the veracity, trustworthiness, and reliability of content (and content producers) in online social networks and beyond.

Issues related to the diffusion of fake news, rumors, hoaxes, as well as the diffusion of malware and viruses in online social networks have become so important as to transcend the virtual ecosystem and interfere with our businesses and societies. Currently, we are unable to effectively deal with these issues. However, recent advances in theoretical data science, as well as the development of big data systems capable of processing the huge volume of online social networks data, gives us the unprecedented opportunity to tackle these critical and multidisciplinary issues.

The Digital DNA Toolbox will provide a novel approach to modeling online user behavior by extracting and analyzing DNA-inspired sequences from users' online actions. These well-known DNA analysis techniques can then be used to discriminate between legitimate and malicious accounts.


SAGE Ocean will be awarding Concept Grants again in 2019. To stay up to date with the latest news and ensure you receive the next call for applications, subscribe to the Big Data Newsletter.

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Sam Whitelaw
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