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

To: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2007 16:25:46 -0600
Message-id: <p06230917c2178b64d443@[]>
>I'm changing the subject line because this raises
>a significant issue.
>>  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.
>I'd say that's "major" rather than "minor", and the
>implications are far from clear.    (01)

Well, in fact so would I, and I think the 
implications are very far-reaching. It is however 
such a syntactically minor matter that it seems 
to be beneath the radar of many logically trained 
folk when they look at the SWeb.    (02)

>  > 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.
>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.    (03)

Yes, but you are talking about human use of 
symbols. What is so new about the SWeb is that 
for the first time we have the possibility of 
this kind of social machinery of meaning transfer 
and evolution applying to formalized systems used 
by software, both in collaboration with humans 
but also independently of them, or at any rate 
happinging at time-scales which make a 
fundamental difference to how they impinge on 
human society.    (04)

>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.    (05)

I guess I don't follow what you mean here.    (06)

>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.    (07)

Again, I fail to follow this. There were no 
global references before the Web. In fact, one 
could reasonably describe the Web as the internet 
plus a global convention for identifiers (plus 
HTML, which relies on and uses that global 
convention.)    (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)

Well, you can do things like this with redirects 
and so on. People often don't bother in simple 
cases, but there is a lot of PHP out there. For 
example, my URI    (010)

http://www.ihmc.us/users/phayes    (011)

redirects you immediately to    (012)

http://www.ihmc.us/users/user.php?UserID=phayes    (013)

and picks up a chunk of stuff from several other 
directories along the way. This way I can have my 
bio info on my own website, and edit it when I 
choose.    (014)

>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.    (015)

Not at all. In fact nothing could be further from 
the truth, cf http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI    (016)

Pat    (017)

>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.
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>    (018)

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