Notes on “Ontologies Come of Age”

Ontologies Come of Age, Deborah L. McGuinness (2002)

One thing I noticed about this reading is the ample use of examples. If you look through all of the points below “Structured Ontologies and Their Uses” you can see what I mean. I find that to be a big problem with a lot of the things I’ve read about ontologies or the semantic web—there’s a lot of terminology and very little illustration. So in that regard, this was a good reading.

On the other hand, the more I play with Protege and read about ontologies, the more it seems to me that all the information science and library science people are moving closer and closer to the way relational databases work, without actually knowing it. For example, each of the classes in an ontology could be thought of as tables. The class/subclass relationship is like a one-to-many foreign key relationship, and since you can have more than one parent for any particular class you can have many-to-one and many-to-many relationships as well. Each of the fields or “slots” is just like a field in a relational table. There are only a few ways in which ontologies and relational databases differ, and they’re only really cosmetic differences. Relational databases have no notion of inheritance, for example, so fields for a table called “Thing” are not passed down to other other tables that have “thing_id” as a foreign key. But database applications and users create views which join the tables and do something similar. Also, Protege allows you to use a class or and instance as the type for a slot, whereas in relational databases it really only makes sense to use an instance.

There must be other people who have noticed this, and since a lot of web pages have relational database back-ends I have to assume semantic web pages will as well.