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Re: [ontolog-forum] FW: Fundamental questions about ontology use andreus

To: Godfrey Rust <godfrey.rust@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 23 Jun 2009 01:28:02 -0400
Message-id: <4A4067E2.9020707@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Sean and Godfrey,    (01)

SB> There is a certain amount of doubt in the businesses I work
 > for as to whether ontologies are anything more than hype.    (02)

Given the applications they've seen so far, I don't blame them.    (03)

The Semantic Web has been around for more than 10 years.  But
in the first 5 years, the original WWW took off like a rocket.
In comparison, the Semantic Web still looks like a solution
in search of a problem.    (04)

I'll start with Godfrey's summary:    (05)

GR> ... in the domains we work in I have found the approach that
 > "an ontology is a smart, flexible data model" gives people
 > a place they can be comfortable working from.    (06)

I agree.    (07)

GR> It means, though, that the ontology you are using has to be
 > presentable to non-ontologists or logicians as a coherent data
 > model in a form that they can see is an interpretation of their
 > business or domain,    (08)

Yes.  The ontologists have to go at least halfway, and I would claim
much more than halfway, toward meeting the software developers who
have been using data models for years.    (09)

My major complaint about the Semantic Web is that they ignored all
the development techniques that worked successfully for years, and
they failed to provide a migration path.    (010)

Following are some of the most egregious blunders:    (011)

  1. Ignoring the fact that every major web site is built on top
     of a relational database.  The major sites use big commercial
     databases.  Smaller sites are based on LAMP -- Linux, Apache,
     MySQL, and Perl, Python, or PHP.    (012)

  2. Building RDF on top of triples, instead of the SQL n-tuples.    (013)

  3. Failing to integrate their notations with UML diagrams, which
     include type hierarchies and various notations for constraints.    (014)

If the Semantic Web had addressed these three issues from the beginning,
it would have been integrated into the mainstream of data processing in
about 3 or 4 years.  Today, we would have seen some truly spectacular
applications.    (015)

The SemWeb still has a chance, but it has to be integrated with the
mainstream of data processing before it can become the mainstream.    (016)

SB> If you want to interoperate between two systems with different data
 > models, you need to create a mapping between them. With conventional
 > models, this mapping must be turned into special purpose mapping code,
 > whereas with an ontology, the mapping is also written in logic, and
 > so the same general purpose reasoner can be used.    (017)

Yes, but it would be easier to integrate conventional systems into a
more general ontology, if both of them could be represented in the
same notations -- for example, UML diagrams with appropriate extensions.    (018)

SB> The business advantage of an ontology over a conventional data model
 > is therefore likely to be in the costs of maintaining interfaces.    (019)

I agree, but it is very hard to sell the advantages of reducing future
costs.  Managers who have invested a lot of money in current systems
are not happy about paying a lot more money today for some pie in the
sky when they die (i.e., retire or leave of their current job).    (020)

SB> The biggest cost of an ontology is confirming its grounding -
 > that is, confirming that the data means what you think it means.    (021)

I strongly agree.  That is why I recommend using familiar diagrams
and notations.  And the easiest notation for anyone to understand is
his or her native language.  But instead of supporting unrestricted
natural languages, I suggest controlled NLs, which can be read as if
they were full NLs.    (022)

SB> Rather, the question is, can we do what we want to do in a
 > cheaper, more reliable way?    (023)

I agree.  As a suggestion, I'll repeat one of my favorite slogans:    (024)

    If you want people to be virtuous,
    make virtue the path of least resistance.    (025)

In other words, provide a smooth migration path from current tools
and technologies, such as relational DBs, UML diagrams, etc., to
ontologies that can be expressed in similar diagrams supplemented
with controlled natural languages.    (026)

That is the theme of one of my talks:    (027)

    http://www.jfsowa.com/talks/cl_sowa.pdf    (028)

John Sowa    (029)

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