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We're all Ontologists Now

Ian Bailey

Over the last three or four years, there seems to have been an explosion in ontology development. Everybody’s got one. A quick web search will reveal large numbers of them in the public domain, and there are many more in existence inside corporations and Government agencies.

I’d always thought ontology was a serious subject, founded in the principles of philosophy and logic. Building an ontology is a time-consuming effort. Every class, individual and relationship has to be carefully analysed before it can be entered into the ontology, and even then, it’s likely to change as you learn more. Given this, how did so many mature ontologies suddenly appear ? Some of them are huge. Had their developers been working on them for last ten years ?

I decided to take a look at some of the ontologies that were on offer. Clearly there is some excellent examples out there – SUMO, ISO15926, DOLCE/Wonderweb, etc. – which have been developed by large teams of philosophers and logicians over several years. But, my search also revealed two other distinct classes of ontology; data models and taxonomies. When did these arbitrary structures become ontologies ? Seemingly when their developers choose to represent them in OWL.

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