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Re: [ontolog-forum] Globally unique definitions (was tasteful tags)

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 09 Mar 2007 14:11:14 -0500
Message-id: <45F1B152.8080409@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat,    (01)

I'm changing the subject line because this raises
a significant issue.    (02)

> Allow me to again point out one of the minor but 
> important initiatives of the semantic web. 
> Because concept names in Sweb formalisms are 
> required to be URIreferences (or more recently 
> IRIs, which subsumes the former), they are 
> *globally* unique. So if you and I both use say, 
> vehicle, that will in fact be something like
> http://www.umbc.edu/sergein/ontologyvocabulary17/transportation#vehicle
> in your ontology and
> http://www.ihmc.us/phayes/vocab22#vehicle
> in mine; *unless* (and this is the second 
> initiative) I have consciously and deliberately 
> re-used your concept name in my ontology, or you 
> have done to mine, or perhaps we have both 
> decided to re-use a concept from some other more 
> widely used ontology published by someone else.    (03)

I'd say that's "major" rather than "minor", and the
implications are far from clear.    (04)

> Such re-use of globally unique concepts is part
> of the basic fabric of the semantic web, and it 
> brings an entirely new approach to questions of 
> how to establish mappings between formalized 
> concepts. For the first time, these are embedded 
> in a kind of social fabric of their own, so that 
> the mechanisms of linguistic meaning change can 
> begin to happen between them directly, rather 
> than having to be mediated by human use of human 
> language.    (05)

There's nothing fundamentally new here.  We have always
had the option, and scholars for the past two millennia
have taken advantage of the option to include all the
necessary footnotes when it was critical to indicate
exactly which definition was intended.    (06)

With the advent of computer systems, programming tools
forced those "footnotes" to be made explicit, and they
have done so remarkably well since the 1950s.    (07)

What is different about the SemWeb is that the usual
methods of using context-dependent global references were
replaced by the enforcement of explicit local references.    (08)

In most programming tools, a term such as "vehicle" is
usually linked to a definition of "vehicle" by a statement
outside the file in which the string "vehicle" occurs.
That makes it possible to change the definitions without
changing the files in which the references occur.    (09)

I still remember the early days of PCs, in which names
of files and disk drives were hard coded in the programs
and people complained about those hard coded connections.
They pleaded for greater flexibility by parametrizing
the connections.  But now the SemWeb has returned to the
good (?) or bad (?) old days with hard coded connections.    (010)

There are strong arguments for both ways of doing things.
Both options should be possible, and it's not a good idea
to edict one or the other.    (011)

John    (012)

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