Ontology Alphabet-soup

In response to:

Coffin, R. Let Semantics bring sophistication to your applications.


Fonseca, Frederico. (2007) “The double role of ontologies in information science research.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 58(6): 786-793.

Initialisms and Acronyms are necessary tools of information science, and the bane of understanding. OWL does not make me think of Web Ontology Language. It makes me think of owls. Fly at night, rodent-catching owls. IS is ingrained in my brain as Information Science, and yet it is quite accurately used by Fonseca as Information Systems. Yet every time Fonseca is trying to differentiate ontologies for and of information systems, I was reading information science, muddling my understanding of an abstract subject.

An ontology is a model of that which exists. An ontology can assist in creating modeling tools, or it can be a collection of statements about a domain. Using Coffin’s examples:

Green Pepper is-a software.

Green Pepper is-a vegetable.

This is an important distinction that a simple search for “Green Pepper” on a search engine isn’t going to make. I’m not sure, however, that it really makes the case for ontologies clearer. The domain of Google is everything that has been indexed by Google. Searching “Green Pepper software” would have located items relevant to Coffin’s search, but this is about keyword searching rather than by identifying a defined domain. He explains ontologies as statements about a domain, but Google has a high retrieval relevancy rate (indicated by their market share in searching) without differentiating the domain of food from the domain of software. The majority of Google users don’t know the search strategies for getting more out of Google, and just manage by adding and removing terms from their search.


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