Finding viable seed URLs for web corpora

I recently attended the Web as Corpus Workshop in Gothenburg, where I had a talk for a paper of mine, Finding viable seed URLs for web corpora: a scouting approach and comparative study of available sources, and another with Felix Bildhauer and Roland Schäfer, Focused Web Corpus Crawling.


The comparison I did started from web crawling experiments I performed at the FU Berlin. The fact is that the conventional tools of the “Web as Corpus” framework rely heavily on URLs obtained from search engines. URLs were easily gathered that way until search engine companies restricted this allowance, meaning that one now has to pay and/or to wait longer to send queries.

I tried to evaluate the leading approach and to find decent subtitutes using social networks as well as the Open Directory Project and Wikipedia. I take four different languages (Dutch, French, Indonesian and Swedish) as examples in order to compare several web spaces with different if not opposed characteristics.

My results distinguish no clear winner, complementary approaches are called for, and it seems possible to replace or at least to complement the existing BootCaT approach. I think that crawling problems such as link/host diversity have not ...

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Challenges in web corpus construction for low-resource languages

I recently presented a paper at the third LRL Workshop (a joint LTC-ELRA-FLaReNet-META_NET workshop on “Less Resourced Languages, new technologies, new challenges and opportunities”).


The state of the art tools of the “web as corpus” framework rely heavily on URLs obtained from search engines. Recently, this querying process became very slow or impossible to perform on a low budget.

Moreover, there are diverse and partly unknown search biases related to search engine optimization tricks and undocumented PageRank adjustments, so that diverse sources of URL seeds could at least ensure that there is not a single bias, but several ones. Last, the evolving web document structure and a shift from “web AS corpus” to “web FOR corpus” (increasing number of web pages and the necessity to use sampling methods) complete what I call the post-BootCaT world in web corpus construction.

Study: What are viable alternative data sources for lesser-known languages?

Trying to find reliable data sources for Indonesian, a country with a population of 237,424,363 of which 25.90 % are internet users (2011, official Indonesian statistics institute), I performed a case study of different kinds of URL sources and crawling strategies.

First, I classified URLs extracted ...

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Review of the Czech internet corpus

Web for “old school” balanced corpus

The Czech internet corpus (Spoustová and Spousta 2012) is a good example of focused web corpora built in order to gather an “old school” balanced corpus encompassing different genres and several text types.

The crawled websites are not selected automatically or at random but according to the linguists’ expert knowledge: the authors mention their “knowledge of the Czech Internet” and their experience on “web site popularity”. The whole process as well as the target websites are described as follows:

We have chosen to begin with manually selecting, crawling and cleaning particular web sites with large and good-enough-quality textual content (e.g. news servers, blog sites, young mothers discussion fora etc.).” (p. 311)

Boilerplate removal

The boilerplate removal part is specially crafted for each target, the authors speak of “manually written scripts”. Texts are picked within each website according to their knowledge. Still, as the number of documents remains too high to allow for a completely manual selection, the authors use natural language processing methods to avoid duplicates.


Their workflow includes:

  1. download of the pages,
  2. HTML and boilerplate removal,
  3. near-duplicate removal,
  4. and finally a language detection, which does not deal with English text but ...
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Overview of URL analysis and classification methods

The analysis of URLs using natural language processing methods has recently become a research topic by itself, all the more since large URL lists are considered as being part of the big data paradigm. Due to the quantity of available web pages and the costs of processing large amounts of data, it is now an Information Retrieval task to try to classify web pages merely by taking their URLs into account and without fetching the documents they link to.

Why is that so and what can be taken away from these methods ?

Interest and objectives

Obviously, the URLs contain clues regarding the ressource they point to. The URL analysis is about getting as much information as possible to try to predict several characteristics of a web page. The results may influence the way the URL is processed: prioritization, delay, building of focused URL groups, etc.

The main goal seems to be to save crawling time, bandwidth and disk space, which are issues everyone confronted to web-scale crawling has to deal with.

However, one could also argue that it is sometimes hard to figure out what hides behind a URL. Kan & Thi (2005) tackle this issue under the assumption that there ...

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What is good enough to become part of a web corpus?

I recently worked at the FU Berlin with Roland Schäfer and Felix Bildhauer on issues related to web corpora. One of them deals with corpus construction: as a matter of fact, web documents can be very different, and even after a proper cleaning it is not rare to see things that could hardly be qualified as texts. While there are indubitably clear cases such as lists of addresses or tag clouds, it is not always obvious to define how extensive the notions of text and corpus are. What’s more, a certain amount of documents just end up too close to call. Nonetheless, this issue has to be addressed, since even a no-decision policy would have consequences, as certain linguistic phenomena become more or less accidentally over- or underrepresented in the final corpus. That is why we believe that linguists and “end users” in general should be aware of this kind of technicalities.

The Good, the Bad, and the Hazy

In an article to be published in the proceedings of the 8th Web as Corpus Workshop, The Good, the Bad, and the Hazy: Design Decisions in Web Corpus Construction, we show that text quality is not always easy to assess ...

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