Ontological Gobbledygook vs the Simple Truth about Ontologies


The Ontological Conundrum

What is an ontology? Is it to do with philosophy? With Artificial Intelligence? Library Science? What I have struggled with to grasp is why so many champions of their use should obfuscate a perfectly simple indexing and cataloging tool so that its main goals and benefits get looked over in the process.

I have meant to put up a post ever since I started this blog but have had a hard time finding an angle that I felt comfortable with. This is my shot at it.

Enter Obscurantism

For the longest time, ontologies and attempts at making sense of them such as Gruber‘s  or Smith‘s simply boggled my mind, as they seem strangely to rely on the most difficult philosophical or A.I. systems out there, which are certainly a welcome addition to their respective discipline but bring little in terms of clarification.

Just for the record, I firmly believe that reference to philosophy or A.I.  may as well be jettisoned.

Ontologies Unpacked

The easiest way to explain ontologies is to:

  1. lay out what issues/ challenges they attempt to solve
    • Make interoperable datasets described using various metadata element schemes
    • Gather together widespread information sources
    • Enable automated working out of relationships between resources (broadly speaking: publications, concepts and individuals)
  2. explain what capacities they bring into play
    • Descriptive languages (RDF vocabularies) amenable to computer processing, which all derive from RDF or RDFS
    • Language for expanding what metadata RDF vocabularies accommodate
    • Query languages such as SPARQL to allow computer agents (programs) to draw inference (i.e. conclusions…) based on the relationships that metadata element schemes made amenable to their processing make possible through RDF, so as to shed light on relationships that were not noted before (i.e. by human beings snowed under the sheer volume of available information our there)

Further Exploring

Surprisingly enough — you would expect them to be much more cryptic than they are here — the best jargon-free introduction to the subject comes directly from W3C.  Also, I’d like to refer you to Towards an Infrastructure for Semantic Applications: Methodologies for Semantic Integration of Heterogeneous Resources by Liang et al. that you can download from FAO here, which gives more of the context for using ontologies than I have here.

Have a look at the videos by NCBO, which make a great job at laying out the basics — without the mumbojumbo.

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~ by iinformationvoyager on May 12, 2010.

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