72010 SemWebTech lecture 5: Methods and Methodologies

The previous two lectures have given you a basic idea about the two principal approaches for starting developing an ontology—top-down and bottom-up—but they do not constitute an encompassing methodology to develop ontologies. In fact, there is no proper, up-to-date comprehensive methodology for ontology development like there is for conceptual model development (e.g., [1]) or ‘waterfall’ versus ‘agile’ software development methodologies. There are many methods and, among others, the W3C’s Semantic Web best practices, though, which to a greater or lesser extent can form part of a comprehensive ontology development methodology.

As a first step towards methodologies that gives a general scope, we will look at a range of parameters that affect ontology development in one way or another [2]. There are four influential factors to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of developing ontologies, which have to do with the purpose(s) of the ontology; what to reuse from existing ontologies and ontology-like artifacts and how to reuse them; the types of approaches for bottom-up ontology development from other legacy sources; and the interaction with the choice of representation language and reasoning services.

Second, methods that helps the ontologist in certain tasks of the ontology engineering process include, but are not limited to, assisting the modelling itself, how to integrate ontologies, and supporting software tools. We will take a closer look at OntoClean [3] that contributes to modelling taxonomies. One might ask oneself: who cares, after all we have the reasoner to classify our taxonomy anyway, right? Indeed, but that works only if you have declared many properties for the classes, which is not always the case, and the reasoner sorts out the logical issues, but not the ontological issues. OntoClean uses several notions from philosophy, such as rigidity, identity criteria, and unity [4, 5] to provide modelling guidelines. For instance, that anti-rigid properties cannot subsume rigid properties; e.g., if we have, say, both Student and Person in our ontology, the former is subsumed by the latter. The lecture will go into some detail of OntoClean.

If, on the other hand, you do have a rich ontology and not mostly a bare taxonomy, ‘debugging’ by availing of an automated reasoner is useful in particular with larger ontologies and ontologies represented in an expressive ontology language. Such ‘debugging’ goes under terms like glass box reasoning [6], justification [7], explanation [8], and pinpointing errors. While they are useful topics, we will spend comparatively little time on it, because it requires some more knowledge of Description Logics and its (mostly tableaux-based) reasoning algorithms that will be introduced only in the 2nd semester (mainly intended for the EMCL students). Those techniques use the automated reasoner to at least locate modelling errors and explain in the most succinct way why this is so, instead of just returning a bunch of inconsistent classes; proposing possible fixes is yet a step further (one such reasoning service will be presented in lecture 6 on Dec. 1).

Aside from parameters, methods, and tools, there are only few methodologies, which are even coarse-grained: they do not (yet) contain all the permutations at each step, i.e. what and how to do each step, given the recent developments. A comparatively comprehensive one is Methontology [10], which has been applied to various subject domains (e.g., chemicals, legal domain [9,11]) since its development in the late 1990s. While some practicalities are superseded with new [12] and even newer languages and tools, some of the core aspects still hold. The five main steps are: specification, conceptualization (with intermediate representations, such as in text or diagrams, like with ORM [1] and pursued by the modelling wiki MOKI that was developed during the APOSDLE project for work-integrated learning), formalization, implementation, and maintenance. Then there are various supporting tasks, such as documentation and version control.

Last, but not least, there are many tools around that help you with one method or another. WebODE aims to support Methontology, the NeOn toolkit aims to support distributed development of ontologies, RacerPlus for sophisticated querying, Protégé-PROMPT for ontology integration (there are many other plug-ins for Protégé), SWOOGLE to search across ontologies, OntoClean with Protégé, and so on and so forth. For much longer listings of tools, see the list of semantic web development tools, the plethora of ontology reasoners and editors, and range of semantic wiki projects engines and features for collaborative ontology development. Finding the right tool to solve the problem at hand (if it exists) is a skill of its own and it is a necessary one to find a feasible solution to the problem at hand. From a technologies viewpoint, the more you know about the goals, features, strengths, and weaknesses of available tools (and have the creativity to develop new ones, if needed), the higher the likelihood you bring a potential solution of a problem to successful completion.


[1] Halpin, T., Morgan, T.: Information modeling and relational databases. 2nd edn. Morgan Kaufmann (2008)

[2] Keet, C.M. Ontology design parameters for aligning agri-informatics with the Semantic Web. 3rd International Conference on Metadata and Semantics (MTSR’09) — Special Track on Agriculture, Food & Environment, Oct 1-2 2009 Milan, Italy. F. Sartori, M.A. Sicilia, and N. Manouselis (Eds.), Springer CCIS 46, 239-244.

[3] Guarino, N. and Welty, C. An Overview of OntoClean. in S. Staab, R. Studer (eds.), Handbook on Ontologies, Springer Verlag 2004, pp. 151-172

[4] Guarino, N., Welty, C.: A formal ontology of properties. In: Dieng, R., Corby, O. (eds.) EKAW 2000. LNAI, vol. 1937, pp. 97–112. Springer, Heidelberg (2000)

[5] Guarino, N., Welty, C.: Identity, unity, and individuality: towards a formal toolkit for ontological analysis. In: Proc. of ECAI 2000. IOS Press, Amsterdam (2000)

[6] Parsia, B., Sirin, E., Kalyanpur, A. Debugging OWL ontologies. World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2005). May 10-14, 2005, Chiba, Japan.

[7] M. Horridge, B. Parsia, and U. Sattler. Laconic and Precise Justifications in OWL. In Proc. of the 7th International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC 2008), Vol. 5318 of LNCS, Springer, 2008.

[8] Alexander Borgida, Diego Calvanese, and Mariano Rodriguez-Muro. Explanation in the DL-Lite family of description logics. In Proc. of the 7th Int. Conf. on Ontologies, DataBases, and Applications of Semantics (ODBASE 2008), LNCS vol 5332, 1440-1457. Springer, 2008.

[9] Fernandez, M.; Gomez-Perez, A. Pazos, A.; Pazos, J. Building a Chemical Ontology using METHONTOLOGY and the Ontology Design Environment. IEEE Expert: Special Issue on Uses of Ontologies, January/February 1999, 37-46.

[10] Gomez-Perez, A.; Fernandez-Lopez, M.; Corcho, O. Ontological Engineering. Springer Verlag London Ltd. 2004.

[11] Oscar Corcho, Mariano Fernández-López, Asunción Gómez-Pérez, Angel López-Cima. Building legal ontologies with METHONTOLOGY and WebODE. Law and the Semantic Web 2005. Springer LNAI 3369, 142-157.

[12] Corcho, O., Fernandez-Lopez, M. and Gomez-Perez, A. (2003). Methodologies, tools and languages for building ontologies. Where is their meeting point?. Data & Knowledge Engineering 46(1): 41-64.

Note: references 2, 3, and 9 are mandatory reading, 6, 7, and 10 recommended, and 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, and 12 are optional.

Lecture notes: lecture 5 – Methodologies

Course webpage

2 responses to “72010 SemWebTech lecture 5: Methods and Methodologies

  1. For the students interested in more details about ‘debugging’ ontologies and the tutorial ontology used during lecture, there is a more comprehensive TONES tutorial, which has the link to the ComputerScience tutorial ontology in section 3 “understanding and repairing inferences”. There is also a video lecture of the tutorial (starts at about 28minutes in the presentation–see index on the right of the page).

  2. Pingback: Ontological realism, methodologies, and mud slinging: a few notes on the AO trilogy « Keet blog

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