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[ontolog-forum] Fundamental questions about ontology use and reuse

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 19 Jun 2009 14:42:06 -0400
Message-id: <4A3BDBFE.6070409@xxxxxxxxxxx>
This forum have addressed many important issues about ontologies:    (01)

What is an ontology?  What kinds of languages should we use to
write ontologies?  How can we relate different ontologies to
one another?  How can we get money to build bigger and better
ontologies?    (02)

But other important questions haven't received much attention:    (03)

Why do we need ontologies?  How are current ontologies being used?
What are the successes and failures of projects that use ontologies?
How do they compare to the successes and failures of similar projects
that do not use explicit ontologies?    (04)

One very short answer to many of those questions is that ontologies
are necessary for sharing and interoperability.    (05)

But computer systems have been interoperating since the 1950s.
In fact, the organization named SHARE was founded in the 1950s as
an IBM user group to share software and promote interoperability.
Among their results was a library of free open-source software.
A major SHARE project was the SHARE Operating System (SOS), which
was a free open-source OS for the IBM 709 and 7090 computers.    (06)

So when anybody says that ontologies promote interoperability,
we must ask two further questions:  How? and Why?    (07)

To answer them, we have to look at systems that interoperate
without having an explicit ontology and compare them to systems
that use an ontology.  Then we have to ask what differences
in approaches, methods, or kinds of problems have led to the
successes and/or failures.    (08)

I recently read an article about another technology that has,
for many years, been proposed as the salvation of mankind:    (09)

    Fusion falters under soaring costs    (010)

The following remark was significant:    (011)

    Professor Balibar explained: "The most difficult problem is
    the problem of materials. Some time ago I declared that fusion
    is like trying to put the Sun in a box - but we don't know
    how to make the box."    (012)

Building a miniature sun on earth is a sexy project that many
people want to work on.  In comparison, building the box sounds
mundane and boring.  But without the box, we can't have the sun.    (013)

Something similar is happening with ontology.  Everyone wants to
build a great new ontology.  That is a sexy project in comparison
to the mundane problems of building the boxes and plumbing that
would make ontologies work in real world systems.    (014)

Those mundane problems are critical to the success of any
ontology project, and we can't ignore them.    (015)

John    (016)

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