Archive for the ‘Semantic Colonialism’ Category

Where to Publish and Find Ontologies? A Survey of Ontology Libraries

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Where to Publish and Find Ontologies? A Survey of Ontology Libraries by Natasha F. Noy and Mathieu d’Aquin.


One of the key promises of the Semantic Web is its potential to enable and facilitate data interoperability. The ability of data providers and application developers to share and reuse ontologies is a critical component of this data interoperability: if different applications and data sources use the same set of well defined terms for describing their domain and data, it will be much easier for them to “talk” to one another. Ontology libraries are the systems that collect ontologies from different sources and facilitate the tasks of finding, exploring, and using these ontologies. Thus ontology libraries can serve as a link in enabling diverse users and applications to discover, evaluate, use, and publish ontologies. In this paper, we provide a survey of the growing—and surprisingly diverse—landscape of ontology libraries. We highlight how the varying scope and intended use of the libraries affects their features, content, and potential exploitation in applications. From reviewing eleven ontology libraries, we identify a core set of questions that ontology practitioners and users should consider in choosing an ontology library for finding ontologies or publishing their own. We also discuss the research challenges that emerge from this survey, for the developers of ontology libraries to address.

Speaking of semantic colonialism, this survey is an accounting of the continuing failure of that program. The examples cited as “ontology libraries” are for the most part not interoperable with each other.

Not that I disagree that having greater data interoperability would be a bad thing, it would be a very good thing, for some issues. The problem, as I see it, is the fixation of the Semantic Web community on a winner-takes-all model of semantics. Could well be, (warning, heresy ahead) that RDF and OWL aren’t the most effective ways to represent or “reason” about data. Just saying, no proof, formal or otherwise to be offered.

And certainly there is a lack of data written using RDF (or even linked data) or annotated using OWL. I don’t think there is a good estimate of all available data so it is difficult to give a good figure for exactly how little of the overall amount of data that is in all the Semantic Web formats.

Any new format will only be applied to the creation of new data so that will leave us with the ever increasing mountains of legacy data which lack the new format.

Rather than seeking to reduce semantic diversity, what appears to be a losing bet, we should explore mechanisms to manage semantic diversity.

Semantic Colonialism

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Here is a good example of semantic colonialism, UM Linguist Studies the Anumeric Language of an Amazonian Tribe. Not obvious from the title is it?

Two studies of the Piraha people of the Amazon, who lack words for numbers, produced different results when they were tested with simple numeric problems with more than three items. One set of results said they could perform them, the other, not.

The explanation for the difference?

The study provides a simple explanation for the controversy. Unbeknown to other researchers, the villagers that participated in one of the previous studies had received basic numerical training by Keren Madora, an American missionary that has worked with the indigenous people of the Amazon for 33 years, and co-author of this study. “Her knowledge of what had happened in that village was crucial. I understood then why they got the results that they did,” Everett says.

Madora used the Piraha language to create number words. For instance she used the words “all the sons of the hand,” to indicate the number four. The introduction of number words into the village provides a reasonable explanation for the disagreement in the previous studies.

If you think that the Piraha are “better off” having number words, put yourself down as a semantic colonialist.

You will have no reason to complain when terms used by Amazon, Google, Nike, Starbucks, etc., start to displace your native terminology.

Even less reason to complain if some Semantic Web ontology displace yours in the race to become the common ontology for some subject area.

After all, one semantic colonialist is much like any other. (Ask any former/current colony if you don’t believe me.)