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Re: [ontolog-forum] [Fwd: [CL] RIF Basic Logic Dialect hits last call]

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Mike Bennett <mbennett@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2008 15:39:45 +0100
Message-id: <48BAAD31.3010601@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
There is an exact parallel of this process that has been going on with 
XML standards over the last 8 - 10 years. There are some interesting 
lessons, and I think a lot of the players will probably involve 
themselves in the semantics effort once it gains some traction as a tool 
for development and integration at those firms that saw the value in the 
XML standardisation efforts. Indeed many firms have invested time and 
resources into helping development of XML standards on the false 
assumption that this would help them deal with matters of common 
meanings within their firms.    (01)

There have also been turf wars of course. In the financial sector we had 
a plethora of new and proposed standards for XML, though none made as 
much headway as the non-XML FIX standard (which has XML as a bolt-on). 
Meanwhile each standard wanted to try to take on as much of the target 
subject area as it could, while at the same time people were constantly 
saying "we must not reinvent the wheel" and signing MoUs with other 
standards groups.    (02)

If the financial industry is anything to go by, you would see one or two 
industry associations sponsoring standards, and an industry 
infrastructure player (SWIFT) involving itself closely in the emergence 
of open standards because they had relied heavily on their own 
(ISO-mandated) standard for years and could not afford to lose market 
dominance. As lean years follow plentiful years, different people scale 
back or put more effort in, and the major players (e.g. the major market 
data vendors for market data language) would put in effort proportional 
to how successful the standard was likely to be. If the standard was 
unlikely to be a success, it was no threat to them.    (03)

A lot of potential users of the standards were afraid that it was all 
some big incomprehensible "alphabet soup" whereas in fact most of the 
standards did not overlap. However none of them had a good 
technology-neutral requirements structure or model of business 
semantics, so the lack of overlap was only visible to those of us who 
knew what were the intended semantics and business usage of each and 
every standard. Typically the sponsors of each standard would regard 
their own world as the whole world, and were weak on explicitly 
specifying context. This can also be a weakness in ontology development 
in the absence of rules about how to specify meaningful context.    (04)

The main place where there becomes a problem about who is "the" standard 
is not in these small, silo-specific standards but in the standards 
bodies that they eventually try to register their material with. There 
are essentially two competing standards bodies globally: the 
International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the United Nations. So in 
financial services most of the different XML standards either have been 
or will be incorporated into the various standards that are set for the 
financial industry (ISO TC68). I understand from looking at efforts in 
other industries that much the same happens across the board.    (05)

Meanwhile the UN has the UN/CEFACT set of standards for electronic 
trade, which is pretty comprehensive and far reaching. Parts of 
UN/CEFACT are now also registered as ISO standards (e.g. ISO 11179 which 
has been mentioned here), and parts of the electronic business ebXML 
standard form parts of the UN/CEFACT family as well as being ISO 
standards in their own right. So eventually the two bodies do indeed 
come together. You also have various alliances being struck with more 
development-oriented standards, such as the recent MoU between FIX and 
the OMG.    (06)

So this is the sort of process that will happen, and it seems to go 
pretty well. There is lots of good will and good intention. There are 
egos that want to run the world but they are not always good at getting 
people to work for them for free so they don't get as far as they would 
like. There are people who think their world is the whole world or who 
have a limited grasp of the wider context - or who baulk at the very use 
of words like context or meaning as being too airy and philosophical for 
them. There are people who think their industry group's content is so 
well known and self-explanatory as to do away with any need to formally 
document it. However, among all these human failings, pragmatism does 
tend to win the day.    (07)

Meanwhile it should be noted that ISO has a very good process for taking 
an existing stable standard from one country or organisation, and 
anointing it as an international standard. What it does not have, 
however, is any good business process for developing anything itself. 
Much of the recent ISO standardisation effort in the financial industry 
has gone badly within ISO because the system of setting up committees 
and working groups does not enforce the basics of good development 
practice, such as requirements statements, quality assurance and change 
management. So some very complex technical artefacts have been designed 
and built (e.g. the ISO 19312 Financial Instruments Business Information 
Model, now incoroprated into ISO 20022) without the most rudimentary 
application of good pratice for development of technical artefacts (what 
process there has been, was hidden within SWIFT).    (08)

It is largely as a recognition of these failures that the EDM Council 
has sponsored the Semantics Repository that I have been working on. I 
worked closely with some of the same players in trying to complete an 
XML-based standard for market data (MDDL), and it is now clear that what 
the participants really wanted was not some XML messaging standard but 
standardisation of actual business meaning. This is because what the 
industry saw value in was increased ability to interoperate across the 
business supply chain. So in a sense XML was mis-sold: the techies said 
it was self-documenting and could define things in natural language 
(without the need to write anything down outside the schema), while the 
non techies assumed that words were as good as meanings. The example 
someone gave here of the word Bond is a good refutation of that. So is 
almost every term when you look at it (e.g. what does "price" mean?)    (09)

So the real challenge in the years ahead, I think, will be to ensure 
that those who are competent to do so, develop ontologies, while those 
that are competent to anoint something as a standard do that and that 
alone. I do think that the ontology standards need to go beyond "this is 
a Thing" and implement some common sense rules for how context and other 
aids to semantics can be made to work. Otherwise will just have a repeat 
of the XML phase, using RDF and OWL.    (010)

If this is managed right, and with engagement from the different 
business communities of practice, we should be able to end up with 
ontologies that are mature enough, complete enough and widely adopted 
enough to then be registered with the relevant committee within ISO as 
possible standards. It will then be the business stakeholders (via their 
representatives on ISO and on national standards committees) who will 
move these forward within the well-established ISO adoption process.    (011)

Mike    (012)

Ron Wheeler wrote:    (013)

>Matthew West wrote:
>>Dear Ron,
>>Just one point.
>>>I just want to have a ghost of a chance of being able build up a
>>>compatible set of ontologies (basic science, units of measure, physics,
>>>chemistry, process equipment, instrumentation, health and safety,
>>>regulatory, etc.) from many sources.  I want to use them without having
>>>to rename everything.
>>[MW] What I am hoping for, is that for these basic things, the people
>>responsible for their definition (the authoritative source) will provide
>>suitable URIs. So for example, that the International Committee for Weights
>>and Measures (Comité international des poids et measures) will provide the
>>ones for units of measure. I think that an authoritative source can be
>>identified for most of the things you mention above. The problem I see is in
>>persuading them to rise to the challenge of providing the web identities and
>>definitions. Perhaps we could help?
>>What I fear is that everyone will define their own identities and
>>definitions for e.g. units of measure.
>I am a little less concerned about this since I think that the 
>marketplace will chose the "best" ontologies rather naturally.
>Forums like this will have a great role to play in the process of 
>natural selection.
>Ontologies that include or are dedicated to units of measure will 
>support existing standards and will gradually coalesce to a common base 
>that application designers will find most useful and most easily 
>integrated with other ontologies. Probably there will be informal 
>agreements to build compatible sets that can make up a seemless 
>application ontology(such as Apache Software Foundation's work on the 
>Java stack ).
>It will be a PITA in the first few years to guess who the ultimate 
>winners are but that is just part of the whole technology selection 
>process that we have to do today when starting a project.
>I can not just pick the Apache stack since I want a more established 
>database system. I expect to face the same challenges in selecting a set 
>of foundation ontologies.
>The usefulness to others of any ontology that I develop will depend on 
>the choice that I made for a "units of measure" ontology.
>People who really like my ontology but hate my choice for "unit of 
>measure" may redo my ontology with a better foundation set and release 
>that to the marketplace so that I may have to revisit my own choices 
>later. That is the price you pay for getting it wrong.
>The marketplace may be cruel but it does eventually pick a set of winners.
>Big players such as IBM, US government, DOD and Microsoft have the power 
>to distort the process but that is just a fact of life.
>It will be interesting to see what the major Indian and Chinese players 
>will come up with as ontologies.
>>Matthew West
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Mike Bennett
Hypercube Ltd. 
89 Worship Street
London EC2A 2BF
Tel: 020 7917 9522
Mob: 07721 420 730
www.hypercube.co.uk    (015)

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