Posted:July 9, 2012
Abrogans; earliest glossary (from Wikipedia)

There are many semantic technology terms relevant to the context of a semantic technology installation [1]. Some of these are general terms related to language standards, as well as to  ontologies or the dataset concept.

An ABox (for assertions, the basis for A in ABox) is an “assertion component”; that is, a fact associated with a terminological vocabulary within a knowledge base. ABox are TBox-compliant statements about instances belonging to the concept of an ontology.
Adaptive ontology
An adaptive ontology is a conventional knowledge representational ontology that has added to it a number of specific best practices, including modeling the ABox and TBox constructs separately; information that relates specific types to different and appropriate display templates or visualization components; use of preferred labels for user interfaces, as well as alternative labels and hidden labels; defined concepts; and a design that adheres to the open world assumption.
Administrative ontology
Administrative ontologies govern internal application use and user interface interactions.
An annotation, specifically as an annotation property, is a way to provide metadata or to describe vocabularies and properties used within an ontology. Annotations do not participate in reasoning or coherency testing for ontologies.
The name Atom applies to a pair of related standards. The Atom Syndication Format is an XML language used for web feeds, while the Atom Publishing Protocol (APP for short) is a simple HTTP-based protocol for creating and updating Web resources.
These are the aspects, properties, features, characteristics, or parameters that objects (and classes) may have. They are the descriptive characteristics of a thing. Key-value pairs match an attribute with a value; the value may be a reference to another object, an actual value or a descriptive label or string. In an RDF statement, an attribute is expressed as a property (or predicate or relation). In intensional logic, all attributes or characteristics of similarly classifiable items define the membership in that set.
An axiom is a premise or starting point of reasoning. In an ontology, each statement (assertion) is an axiom.
Binding is the creation of a simple reference to something that is larger and more complicated and used frequently. The simple reference can be used instead of having to repeat the larger thing.
A class is a collection of sets or instances (or sometimes other mathematical objects) which can be unambiguously defined by a property that all of its members share. In ontologies, classes may also be known as sets, collections, concepts, types of objects, or kinds of things.
Closed World Assumption
CWA is the presumption that what is not currently known to be true, is false. CWA also has a logical formalization. CWA is the most common logic applied to relational database systems, and is particularly useful for transaction-type systems. In knowledge management, the closed world assumption is used in at least two situations: 1) when the knowledge base is known to be complete (e.g., a corporate database containing records for every employee), and 2) when the knowledge base is known to be incomplete but a “best” definite answer must be derived from incomplete information. See contrast to the open world assumption.
Data Space
A data space may be personal, collective or topical, and is a virtual “container” for related information irrespective of storage location, schema or structure.
An aggregation of similar kinds of things or items, mostly comprised of instance records.
A project that extracts structured content from Wikipedia, and then makes that data available as linked data. There are millions of entities characterized by DBpedia in this way. As such, DBpedia is one of the largest — and most central — hubs for linked data on the Web.
DOAP (Description Of A Project) is an RDF schema and XML vocabulary to describe open-source projects.
Description logics
Description logics and their semantics traditionally split concepts and their relationships from the different treatment of instances and their attributes and roles, expressed as fact assertions. The concept split is known as the TBox and represents the schema or taxonomy of the domain at hand. The TBox is the structural and intensional component of conceptual relationships. The second split of instances is known as the ABox and describes the attributes of instances (and individuals), the roles between instances, and other assertions about instances regarding their class membership with the TBox concepts.
Domain ontology
Domain (or content) ontologies embody more of the traditional ontology functions such as information interoperability, inferencing, reasoning and conceptual and knowledge capture of the applicable domain.
An individual object or member of a class; when affixed with a proper name or label is also known as a named entity (thus, named entities are a subset of all entities).
Entity–attribute–value model
EAV is a data model to describe entities where the number of attributes (properties, parameters) that can be used to describe them is potentially vast, but the number that will actually apply to a given entity is relatively modest. In the EAV data model, each attribute-value pair is a fact describing an entity. EAV systems trade off simplicity in the physical and logical structure of the data for complexity in their metadata, which, among other things, plays the role that database constraints and referential integrity do in standard database designs.
The extension of a class, concept, idea, or sign consists of the things to which it applies, in contrast with its intension. For example, the extension of the word “dog” is the set of all (past, present and future) dogs in the world. The extension is most akin to the attributes or characteristics of the instances in a set defining its class membership.
FOAF (Friend of a Friend) is an RDF schema for machine-readable modeling of homepage-like profiles and social networks.
A folksonomy is a user-generated set of open-ended labels called tags organized in some manner and used to categorize and retrieve Web content such as Web pages, photographs, and Web links.
GeoNames integrates geographical data such as names of places in various languages, elevation, population and others from various sources.
GRDDL is a markup format for Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages; that is, for getting RDF data out of XML and XHTML documents using explicitly associated transformation algorithms, typically represented in XSLT.
High-level Subject
A high-level subject is both a subject proxy and category label used in a hierarchical subject classification scheme (taxonomy). Higher-level subjects are classes for more atomic subjects, with the height of the level representing broader or more aggregate classes.
See Instance.
Inference is the act or process of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true. The logic within and between statements in an ontology is the basis for inferring new conclusions from it, using software applications known as inference engines or reasoners.
Instances are the basic, “ground level” components of an ontology. An instance is individual member of a class, also used synonomously with entity. The instances in an ontology may include concrete objects such as people, animals, tables, automobiles, molecules, and planets, as well as abstract instances such as numbers and words. An instance is also known as an individual, with member and entity also used somewhat interchangeably.
Instance record
An instance with one or more attributes also provided.
irON (instance record and Object Notation) is a abstract notation and associated vocabulary for specifying RDF (Resource Description Framework) triples and schema in non-RDF forms. Its purpose is to allow users and tools in non-RDF formats to stage interoperable datasets using RDF.
The intension of a class is what is intended as a definition of what characteristics its members should have; it is akin to a definition of a concept and what is intended for a class to contain. It is therefore like the schema aspects (or TBox) in an ontology.
Key-value pair
Also known as a name–value pair or attribute–value pair, a key-value pair is a fundamental, open-ended data representation. All or part of the data model may be expressed as a collection of tuples <attribute name, value> where each element is a key-value pair. The key is the defined attribute and the value may be a reference to another object or a literal string or value. In RDF triple terms, the subject is implied in a key-value pair by nature of the instance record at hand.
Used synonomously herein with class.
Knowledge base
A knowledge base (abbreviated KB or kb) is a special kind of database for knowledge management. A knowledge base provides a means for information to be collected, organized, shared, searched and utilized. Formally, the combination of a TBox and ABox is a knowledge base.
A specification that relates an object or attribute name to its full URI (as required in the RDF language).
Linked data
Linked data is a set of best practices for publishing and deploying instance and class data using the RDF data model, and uses uniform resource identifiers (URIs) to name the data objects. The approach exposes the data for access via the HTTP protocol, while emphasizing data interconnections, interrelationships and context useful to both humans and machine agents.
A considered correlation of objects in two different sources to one another, with the relation between the objects defined via a specific property. Linkage is a subset of possible mappings.
Used synonomously herein with instance.
Metadata (metacontent) is supplementary data that provides information about one or more aspects of the content at hand such as means of creation, purpose, when created or modified, author or provenance, where located, topic or subject matter, standards used, or other annotation characteristics. It is “data about data”, or the means by which data objects or aggregations can be described. Contrasted to an attribute, which is an individual characteristic intrinsic to a data object or instance, metadata is a description about that data, such as how or when created or by whom.
Metamodeling is the analysis, construction and development of the frames, rules, constraints, models and theories applicable and useful for modeling a predefined class of problems.
Microdata is a proposed specification used to nest semantics within existing content on web pages. Microdata is an attempt to provide a simpler way of annotating HTML elements with machine-readable tags than the similar approaches of using RDFa or microformats.
A microformat (sometimes abbreviated μF or uF) is a piece of mark up that allows expression of semantics in an HTML (or XHTML) web page. Programs can extract meaning from a web page that is marked up with one or more microformats.
Natural language processing
NLP is the process of a computer extracting meaningful information from natural language input and/or producing natural language output. NLP is one method for assigning structured data characterizations to text content for use in semantic technologies. (Hand assignment is another method.) Some of the specific NLP techniques and applications relevant to semantic technologies include automatic summarization, coreference resolution, machine translation, named entity recognition (NER), question answering, relationship extraction, topic segmentation and recognition, word segmentation, and word sense disambiguation, among others.
Information extraction (IE) is the task of automatically extracting structured information from unstructured and/or semi-structured machine-readable documents. Ontology-based information extraction (OBIE) is the use of an ontology to inform a “tagger” or information extraction program when doing natural language processing. Input ontologies thus become the basis for generating metadata tags when tagging text or documents.
An ontology is a data model that represents a set of concepts within a domain and the relationships between those concepts. Loosely defined, ontologies on the Web can have a broad range of formalism, or expressiveness or reasoning power.
Ontology-driven application
Ontology-driven applications (or ODapps) are modular, generic software applications designed to operate in accordance with the specifications contained in one or more ontologies. The relationships and structure of the information driving these applications are based on the standard functions and roles of ontologies (namely as domain ontologies), as supplemented by UI and instruction sets and validations and rules.
Open Semantic Framework
The open semantic framework, or OSF, is a combination of a layered architecture and an open-source, modular software stack. The stack combines many leading third-party software packages with open source semantic technology developments from Structured Dynamics.
Open World Assumption
OWA is a formal logic assumption that the truth-value of a statement is independent of whether or not it is known by any single observer or agent to be true. OWA is used in knowledge representation to codify the informal notion that in general no single agent or observer has complete knowledge, and therefore cannot make the closed world assumption. The OWA limits the kinds of inference and deductions an agent can make to those that follow from statements that are known to the agent to be true. OWA is useful when we represent knowledge within a system as we discover it, and where we cannot guarantee that we have discovered or will discover complete information. In the OWA, statements about knowledge that are not included in or inferred from the knowledge explicitly recorded in the system may be considered unknown, rather than wrong or false. Semantic Web languages such as OWL make the open world assumption. See contrast to the closed world assumption.
OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) is an XML format for outlines, and is commonly used to exchange lists of web feeds between web feed aggregators.
The Web Ontology Language (OWL) is designed for defining and instantiating formal Web ontologies. An OWL ontology may include descriptions of classes, along with their related properties and instances. There are also a variety of OWL dialects.
See Property.
Properties are the ways in which classes and instances can be related to one another. Properties are thus a relationship, and are also known as predicates. Properties are used to define an attribute relation for an instance.
In computer science, punning refers to a programming technique that subverts or circumvents the type system of a programming language, by allowing a value of a certain type to be manipulated as a value of a different type. When used for ontologies, it means to treat a thing as both a class and an instance, with the use depending on context.
Resource Description Framework (RDF) is a family of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications originally designed as a metadata model but which has come to be used as a general method of modeling information, through a variety of syntax formats. The RDF metadata model is based upon the idea of making statements about resources in the form of subject-predicate-object expressions, called triples in RDF terminology. The subject denotes the resource, and the predicate denotes traits or aspects of the resource and expresses a relationship between the subject and the object.
RDFa 1.0 is a set of extensions to XHTML that is a W3C Recommendation. RDFa uses attributes from meta and link elements, and generalizes them so that they are usable on all elements allowing annotation markup with semantics. A W3C Working draft is presently underway that expands RDFa into version 1.1 with HTML5 and SVG support, among other changes.
RDF Schema
RDFS or RDF Schema is an extensible knowledge representation language, providing basic elements for the description of ontologies, otherwise called RDF vocabularies, intended to structure RDF resources.
A semantic reasoner, reasoning engine, rules engine, or simply a reasoner, is a piece of software able to infer logical consequences from a set of asserted facts or axioms. The notion of a semantic reasoner generalizes that of an inference engine, by providing a richer set of mechanisms.
Reasoning is one of many logical tests using inference rules as commonly specified by means of an ontology language, and often a description language. Many reasoners use first-order predicate logic to perform reasoning; inference commonly proceeds by forward chaining or backward chaining.
As used herein, a shorthand reference to an instance record.
Used synonomously herein with attribute.
RSS (an acronym for Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news feeds or podcasts. is an initiative launched by the major search engines of Bing, Google and Yahoo!, and later jointed by Yandex, in order to create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages. provided a starter set of schema and extension mechanisms for adding to them. supports markup in microdata, microformat and RDFa formats.
Semantic enterprise
An organization that uses semantic technologies and the languages and standards of the semantic Web, including RDF, RDFS, OWL, SPARQL and others to integrate existing information assets, using the best practices of linked data and the open world assumption, and targeting knowledge management applications.
Semantic technology
Semantic technologies are a combination of software and semantic specifications that encodes meanings separately from data and content files and separately from application code. This approach enables machines as well as people to understand, share and reason with data and specifications separately. With semantic technologies, adding, changing and implementing new relationships or interconnecting programs in a different way can be as simple as changing the external model that these programs share. New data can also be brought into the system and visualized or worked upon based on the existing schema. Semantic technologies provide an abstraction layer above existing IT technologies that enables bridging and interconnection of data, content, and processes.
Semantic Web
The Semantic Web is a collaborative movement led by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that promotes common formats for data on the World Wide Web. By encouraging the inclusion of semantic content in web pages, the Semantic Web aims at converting the current web of unstructured documents into a “web of data”. It builds on the W3C’s Resource Description Framework (RDF).
A semset is the use of a series of alternate labels and terms to describe a concept or entity. These alternatives include true synonyms, but may also be more expansive and include jargon, slang, acronyms or alternative terms that usage suggests refers to the same concept.
Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities Project (SIOC) is based on RDF and is an ontology defined using RDFS for interconnecting discussion methods such as blogs, forums and mailing lists to each other.
SKOS or Simple Knowledge Organisation System is a family of formal languages designed for representation of thesauri, classification schemes, taxonomies, subject-heading systems, or any other type of structured controlled vocabulary; it is built upon RDF and RDFS.
Semantic Knowledge Source Integration provides a declarative mapping language and API between external sources of structured knowledge and the Cyc knowledge base.
SPARQL (pronounced “sparkle”) is an RDF query language; its name is a recursive acronym that stands for SPARQL Protocol and RDF Query Language.
A statement is a “triple” in an ontology, which consists of a subject – predicate – object (S-P-O) assertion. By definition, each statement is a “fact” or axiom within an ontology.
A subject is always a noun or compound noun and is a reference or definition to a particular object, thing or topic, or groups of such items. Subjects are also often referred to as concepts or topics.
Subject extraction
Subject extraction is an automatic process for retrieving and selecting subject names from existing knowledge bases or data sets. Extraction methods involve parsing and tokenization, and then generally the application of one or more information extraction techniques or algorithms.
Subject proxy
A subject proxy as a canonical name or label for a particular object; other terms or controlled vocabularies may be mapped to this label to assist disambiguation. A subject proxy is always representative of its object but is not the object itself.
A tag is a keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (e.g., a picture, article, or video clip), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification of information. Tags are usually chosen informally by either the creator or consumer of the item.
A TBox (for terminological knowledge, the basis for T in TBox) is a “terminological component”; that is, a conceptualization associated with a set of facts. TBox statements describe a conceptualization, a set of concepts and properties for these concepts. The TBox is sufficient to describe an ontology (best practice often suggests keeping a split between instance records — and ABox — and the TBox schema).
In the context of knowledge systems, taxonomy is the hierarchical classification of entities of interest of an enterprise, organization or administration, used to classify documents, digital assets and other information. Taxonomies can cover virtually any type of physical or conceptual entities (products, processes, knowledge fields, human groups, etc.) at any level of granularity.
The topic (or theme) is the part of the proposition that is being talked about (predicated). In topic maps, the topic may represent any concept, from people, countries, and organizations to software modules, individual files, and events. Topics and subjects are closely related.
Topic Map
Topic maps are an ISO standard for the representation and interchange of knowledge. A topic map represents information using topics, associations (similar to a predicate relationship), and occurrences (which represent relationships between topics and information resources relevant to them), quite similar in concept to the RDF triple.
A basic statement in the RDF language, which is comprised of a subjectproperty – object construct, with the subject and property (and object optionally) referenced by URIs.
Used synonomously herein with class.
UMBEL, short for Upper Mapping and Binding Exchange Layer, is an upper ontology of about 28,000 reference concepts, designed to provide common mapping points for relating different ontologies or schema to one another, and a vocabulary for aiding that ontology mapping, including expressions of likelihood relationships distinct from exact identity or equivalence. This vocabulary is also designed for interoperable domain ontologies.
Upper ontology
An upper ontology (also known as a top-level ontology or foundation ontology) is an ontology that describes very general concepts that are the same across all knowledge domains. An important function of an upper ontology is to support very broad semantic interoperability between a large number of ontologies that are accessible ranking “under” this upper ontology.
A vocabulary in the sense of knowledge systems or ontologies are controlled vocabularies. They provide a way to organize knowledge for subsequent retrieval. They are used in subject indexing schemes, subject headings, thesauri, taxonomies and other form of knowledge organization systems.
WordNet is a lexical database for the English language. It groups English words into sets of synonyms called synsets, provides short, general definitions, and records the various semantic relations between these synonym sets. The purpose is twofold: to produce a combination of dictionary and thesaurus that is more intuitively usable, and to support automatic text analysis and artificial intelligence applications. The database and software tools can be downloaded and used freely. Multiple language versions exist, and WordNet is a frequent reference structure for semantic applications.
“Yet another great ontology” is a WordNet structure placed on top of Wikipedia.

[1] This glossary is based on the one provided on the OSF TechWiki. For the latest version, please refer to this link.
Posted:July 2, 2012

Example Ontology (from Wikipedia)Conventional IT Systems are Poorly Suited to Knowledge Applications

Frequently customers ask me why semantic technologies should be used instead of conventional information technologies. In the areas of knowledge representation (KR) and knowledge management (KM), there are compelling reasons and benefits for selecting semantic technologies over conventional approaches. This article attempts to summarize these rationales from a layperson perspective.

It is important to recognize that semantic technologies are orthogonal to the buzz around some other current technologies, including cloud computing and big data. Semantic technologies are also not limited to open data: they are equivalently useful to private or proprietary data. It is also important to note that semantic technologies do not imply some grand, shared schema for organizing all information. Semantic technologies are not “one ring to rule them all,” but rather a way to capture the world views of particular domains and groups of stakeholders. Lastly, semantic technologies done properly are not a replacement for existing information technologies, but rather an added layer that can leverage those assets for interoperability and to overcome the semantic barriers between existing information silos.

Nature of the World

The world is a messy place. Not only is it complicated and richly diverse, but our ways of describing and understanding it are made more complex by differences in language and culture.

We also know the world to be interconnected and interdependent. Effects of one change can propagate into subtle and unforeseen effects. And, not only is the world constantly changing, but so is our understanding of what exists in the world and how it affects and is affected by everything else.

This means we are always uncertain to a degree about how the world works and the dynamics of its working. Through education and research we continually strive to learn more about the world, but often in that process find what we thought was true is no longer so and even our own human existence is modifying our world in manifest ways.

Knowledge is very similar to this nature of the world. We find that knowledge is never complete and it can be found anywhere and everywhere. We capture and codify knowledge in structured, semi-structured and unstructured forms, ranging from “soft” to “hard” information. We find that the structure of knowledge evolves with the incorporation of more information.

We often see that knowledge is not absolute, but contextual. That does not mean that there is no such thing as truth, but that knowledge should be coherent, to reflect a logical consistency and structure that comports with our observations about the physical world. Knowledge, like the world, is constantly changing; we thus must constantly adapt to what we observe and learn.

Knowledge Representation, Not Transactions

These observations about the world and knowledge are not platitudes but important guideposts for how we should organize and manage information, the field known as “information technology.” For IT to truly serve the knowledge function, its logical bases should be consistent with the inherent nature of the world and knowledge.

By knowledge functions we mean those areas of various computer applications that come under the rubrics of search, business intelligence, competitive intelligence, planning, forecasting, data federation, data warehousing, knowledge management, enterprise information integration, master data management, knowledge representation, and so forth. These applications are distinctly different than the earliest and traditional concerns of IT systems:  accounting and transactions.

A transaction system — such as calculating revenue based on seats on a plane, the plane’s occupancy, and various rate classes — is a closed system. We can count the seats, we know the number of customers on board, and we know their rate classes and payments. Much can be done with this information, including yield and profitability analysis and other conventional ways of accounting for costs or revenues or optimizations.

But, as noted, neither the world nor knowledge is a closed system. Trying to apply legacy IT approaches to knowledge problems is fraught with difficulties. That is the reason that for more than four decades enterprises have seen massive cost overruns and failed projects in applying conventional IT approaches to knowledge problems: traditional IT is fundamentally mismatched to the nature of the problems at hand.

What works efficiently for transactions and accounting is a miserable failure applied to knowledge problems. Traditional relational databases work best with structured data; are inflexible and fragile when the nature (schema) of the world changes; and thus require constant (and expensive) re-architecting in the face of new knowledge or new relationships.

Of course, often knowledge problems do consider fixed entities with fixed attributes to describe them. In these cases, relational data systems can continue to act as valuable contributors and data managers of entities and their attributes. But, in the role of organizing across schema or dealing with semantics and differences of definition and scope – that is, the common types of knowledge questions – a much different integration layer with a much different logic basis is demanded.

The New Open World Paradigm

The first change that is demanded is to shift the logic paradigm of how knowledge and the world are modeled. In contrast to the closed-world approach of transaction systems, IT systems based on the logical premise of the open world assumption (OWA) mean:

  • Lack of a given assertion does not imply whether it is true or false; it simply is not known
  • A lack of knowledge does not imply falsity
  • Everything is permitted until it is prohibited
  • Schema can be incremental without re-architecting prior schema (“extensible”), and
  • Information at various levels of incompleteness can be combined.

Much more can be said about OWA, including formal definitions of the logics underlying it [1], but even from the statements above, we can see that the right logic for most knowledge representation (KR) problems is the open world approach.

This logic mismatch is perhaps the most fundamental cause of failures, cost overruns, and disappointing deliverables for KM and KR projects over the years. But, like the fingertip between the eyes that cannot be seen because it is too close at hand, the importance of this logic mismatch strangely continues to be overlooked.

Integrating All Forms of Information

Data exists in many forms and of many natures. As one classification scheme, there are:

  • Structured data — information presented according to a defined data model, often found in relational databases or other forms of tabular data
  • Semi-structured data — does not conform to the formal structure of data models, but contains tags or other markers to denote fields within the content. Markup languages embedded in text are a common form of such sources
  • Unstructured data — information content, generally oriented to text, that lacks an explicit data model or schema; structured information can be obtained from it via data mining or information extraction.

Further, these types of data may be “soft”, such as social information or opinion, or “hard”, more akin to measurable facts or quantities.

These various forms may also be serialized in a variety of data formats or data transfer protocols, some using straight text with a myriad of syntax or markup vocabularies, ranging to scripts or forms encoded or binary.

Still further, any of these data forms may be organized according to a separate schema that describes the semantics and relationships within the data.

These variations further complicate the inherently diverse nature of the world and knowledge of it. A suitable data model for knowledge representation must therefore have the power to be able to capture the form, format, serialization or schema of any existing data within the diversity of these options.

The Resource Description Framework (RDF) data model has such capabilities [2]. Any extant data form or schema (from the simple to the complex) can be converted to the RDF data model. This capability enables RDF to act as a “universal solvent” for all information.

Once converted to this “canonical” form, RDF can then act as a single representation around which to design applications and other converters (for “round-tripping” to legacy systems, for example), as illustrated by this diagram:

Generic tools can then be driven by the RDF data model, which leads to fewer applications required and lower overall development costs.

Lastly, RDF can represent simple assertions (“Jane runs fast”) to complex vocabularies and languages. It is in this latter role that RDF can begin to represent the complexity of an entire domain via what is called an “ontology” or “knowledge graph.”

Example Ontology Growth

Connections Create Graphs

When representing knowledge, more things and concepts get drawn into consideration. In turn, the relationships of these things lead to connections between them to capture the inherent interdependence and linkages of the world. As still more things get considered, more connections are made and proliferate.

This process naturally leads to a graph structure, with the things in the graphs represented as nodes and the relationships between them represented as connecting edges. More things and more connections lead to more structure. Insofar as this structure and its connections are coherent, the natural structure of the knowledge graph itself can help lead to more knowledge and understanding.

How one such graph may emerge is shown by this portion of the recently announced Google Knowledge Graph [3], showing female Nobel prize winners:

Unlike traditional data tables, graphs have a number of inherent benefits, particularly for knowledge representations. They provide:

  • A coherent way to navigate the knowledge space
  • Flexible entry points for each user to access that knowledge (since every node is a potential starting point)
  • Inferencing and reasoning structures about the space
  • Connections to related information
  • Ability to connect to any form of information
  • Concept mapping, and thus the ability to integrate external content
  • A framework to disambiguate concepts based on relations and context, and
  • A common vocabulary to drive content “tagging”.

Graphs are the natural structures for knowledge domains.

Network Analysis is the New Algebra

Once built, graphs offer some analytical capabilities not available through traditional means of information structure. Graph analysis is a rapidly emerging field, but already some unique measures of knowledge domains are now possible to gauge:

  • Influence
  • Relatedness
  • Proximity
  • Centrality
  • Inference
  • Clustering
  • Shortest paths
  • Diffusion.

As science is coming to appreciate, graphs can represent any extant structure or schema. This gives graphs a universal character in terms of analytic tools. Further, many structures can only be represented by graphs.

Information and Interaction is Distributed

The nature of knowledge is such that relevant information is everywhere. Further, because of the interconnectedness of things, we can also appreciate that external information needs to be integrated with internal information. Meanwhile, the nature of the world is such that users and stakeholders may be anywhere.

These observations suggest a knowledge representation architecture that needs to be truly distributed. Both sources and users may be found in multiple locations.

In order to preserve existing information assets as much as possible (see further below) and to codify the earlier observation regarding the broad diversity of data formats, the resulting knowledge architecture should also attempt to put in place a thin layer or protocol that provides uniform access to any source or target node on the physical network. A thin, uniform abstraction layer – with appropriate access rights and security considerations – means knowledge networks may grow and expand at will at acceptable costs with minimal central coordination or overhead.

Properly designed, then, such architectures are not only necessary to represent the distributed nature of users and knowledge, but can also facilitate and contribute to knowledge development and exchange.

The Web is the Perfect Medium

The items above suggest the Web as an appropriate protocol for distributed access and information exchange. When combined with the following considerations, it becomes clear that the Web is the perfect medium for knowledge networks:

  • Potentially, all information may be accessed via the Web
  • All information may be given unique Web identifiers (URIs)
  • All Web tools are available for use and integration
  • All Web information may be integrated
  • Web-oriented architectures (WOA) have proven:
  • Scalability
  • Robustness
  • Substitutability
  • Most Web technologies are open source.

It is not surprising that the largest extant knowledge networks on the globe – such as Google, Wikipedia, Amazon and Facebook – are Web-based. These pioneers have demonstrated the wisdom of WOA for cost-effective scalability and universal access.

Also, the combination of RDF with Web identifiers also means that any and all information from a given knowledge repository may be exposed and made available to others as linked data. This approach makes the Web a global, universal database. And it is in keeping with the general benefits of integrating external information sources.

Leveraging – Not Replacing – Existing IT Assets

Existing IT assets represent massive sunk costs, legacy knowledge and expertise, and (often) stakeholder consensus. Yet, these systems are still largely stovepiped.

Strategies that counsel replacement of existing IT systems risk wasting existing assets and are therefore unlikely to be adopted. Ways must be found to leverage the value already embodied in these systems, while promoting interoperability and integration.

The beauty of semantic technologies – properly designed and deployed in a Web-oriented architecture – is that a thin interoperability layer may be placed over existing IT assets to achieve these aims. The knowledge graph structure may be used to provide the semantic mappings between schema, while the Web service framework that is part of the WOA provides the source conversion to the canonical RDF data model.

Via these approaches, prior investments in knowledge, information and IT assets may be preserved while enabling interoperability. The existing systems can continue to provide the functionality for which they were originally designed and deployed. Meanwhile, the KR-related aspects may be exposed and integrated with other knowledge assets on the physical network.

Democratizing the Knowledge Function

These kinds of approaches represent a fundamental shift in power and roles with respect to IT in the enterprise. IT departments and their bottlenecks in writing queries and bespoke application development can now be bypassed; the departments may be relegated to more appropriate support roles. Developers and consultants can now devote more of their time to developing generic applications driven by graph structures [4].

In turn, the consumers of knowledge applications – namely subject matter experts, employees, partners and stakeholders – now become the active contributors to the graphs themselves, focusing on reconciling terminology and ensuring adequate entity and concept coverage. Knowledge graphs are relatively straightforward structures to build and maintain. Those that rely on them can also be those that have the lead role in building and maintaining them.

Thus, graph-driven applications can be made generic by function with broader and more diverse information visualization capabilities. Simple instructions in the graphs can indicate what types of information can be displayed with what kind of widget. Graph-driven applications also mean that those closest to the knowledge problems will also be those directly augmenting the graphs. These changes act to democratize the knowledge function, and lower overall IT costs and risks.

Seven Pillars of the Semantic Enterprise

Elsewhere we have discussed the specific components that go into enabling the development of a semantic enterprise, what we have termed the seven pillars [5]. Most of these points have been covered to one degree or another in the discussion above.

There are off-the-shelf starter kits for enterprises to embrace to begin this process. The major starting requirements are to develop appropriate knowledge graphs (ontologies) for the given domain and to convert existing information assets into appropriate interoperable RDF form.

Beyond that, enterprise staff may be readily trained in the use and growth of the graphs, and in the staging and conversion of data. With an appropriate technology transfer component, these semantic technology systems can be maintained solely by the enterprise itself without further outside assistance.

Summary of Semantic Technology Benefits

Unlike conventional IT systems with their closed-world approach, semantic technologies that adhere to these guidelines can be deployed incrementally at lower cost and with lower risk. Further, we have seen that semantic technologies offer an excellent integration approach, with no need to re-do schema because of changed circumstances. The approach further leverages existing information assets and brings the responsibility for the knowledge function more directly to its users and consumers.

Semantic technologies are thus well-suited for knowledge applications. With their graph structures and the ability to capture semantic differences and meanings, these technologies can also accommodate multiple viewpoints and stakeholders. There are also excellent capabilities to relate all available information – from documents and images and metadata to tables and databases – into a common footing.

These advantages will immediately accrue through better integration and interoperability of diverse information assets. But, for early adopters, perhaps the most immediate benefit will come from visible leadership in embracing these enabling technologies in advance of what will surely become the preferred approach to knowledge problems.

Note: there is a version of this article on Slideshare:

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[1] For more on the open world assumption (OWA), see the various entries on this topic on Michael Bergman’s AI3:::Adaptive Information blog. This link is a good search string to discover more.
[2] M.K. Bergman, 2009. Advantages and Myths of RDF, white paper from Structured Dynamics LLC, April 22, 2009, 13 pp. See
[4] For the most comprehensive discussion of graph-driven apps, see M. K. Bergman, 2011. ” Ontology-Driven Apps Using Generic Applications,” posted on the AI3:::Adaptive Information blog, March 7, 2011. You may also search on that blog for ‘ODapps‘ to see related content.
[5] M.K. Bergman, 2010. “Seven Pillars of the Open Semantic Enterprise,” in AI3:::Adaptive Information blog, January 12, 2010; see