Posted:October 11, 2010

structWFSFirst of Two Semantic Component Additions to the Open Semantic Framework

Since its initial release, Structured Dynamics‘ open source Open Semantic Framework (OSF) has continued to expand its capabilities and add refinements [1]. The OSF and its various contributing open source software modules are now also fully documented and explained on the OSF TechWiki [2], from which this current article is drawn.

With the kind sponsorship of one of our clients [3], we were commissioned to create “dashboards.” Dashboards are currently all the rage. A dashboard presents a composite view of data and information, involving generally multiple widgets or individual displays. This, for example, is a dashboard in the context of our client:

But the client’s request did not end there. What they wanted was a general capability to make dashboards — a dashboard-making machine, if you will — because of their desire to provide an information portal that is constantly changing and responsive to current topics and needs.

The net outcome of this request was our creation of the Workbench, beautifully designed by Fred Giasson, to be our newest (and most comprehensive) semantic component. In terms of terminology:

  • The Workbench is the environment (presently expressed as a conStruct Drupal module) for creating Dashboard views
  • A Dashboard View is a combination of one of more records, attributes for those records, and the widgets that display them. A Dashboard view may be saved, which makes it persistent and callable and usable from other application locations. A Dashboard view may also be embedded into other Web pages. The figure above is an example Dashboard view with four display widgets
  • Sub-panel is an individual widget display incorporated into a given Dashboard view; practically there is a limit of about six (6) sub-panels for any given Dashboard view (though there may be as few as one sub-panel).

Note: the example screen above and those that follow are illustrative. They may be:

  • Completely different widgets and data than what is shown
  • Completely different in appearance for your own installation; they can be styled in any way you wish
  • Optionally reserved for system use only, with only the actual Dashboards viewable by standard users.

In most instances, use of the Workbench is reserved for administrators and curators, who use it to create persistent Dashboard views that are what is ultimately shared with end users. However, that is also a matter of policy and design. There is no technical reason why the Workbench could not be exposed to standard users.

What follows, then, is part of the user manuals for working with the Workbench and Dashboards. It assumes you already know much of how Drupal and its conStruct OSF modules work.

Accessing the Workbench

From within a Drupal instance, you access the Workbench via either the Admin or Tools links. Then, you will see the Workbench provided as a distinct option:

The Main Workbench Screen

The Workbench is the environment (presently expressed as a conStruct Drupal module) for creating Dashboard views. As such, if used, it is one of the more complicated components in an Open Semantic Framework instance. The Workbench consists of three panels and a main menu.

Three Panels

The Workbench is comprised of three main panels: the Filter Panel (Item #1), the Record Selector Panel (Item #2) and the Dashboard Panel (Item #3):

Selections in any one of the panels gets reflected and highlighted in all other panels.

These three main panels can be moved or re-sized anywhere around the screen.

Filter Panel

The Filter Panel (Item #1) is for making broad “slice-and-dice” selections across the structure. It has three sub-groupings within it:

  • Datasets, which are a listing of all of the datasets to which you have access
  • Kinds, which are the facets or types (sets) by which your data is organized and characterized, and
  • Attributes, which are the specific data characteristics for your records. Attributes correspond to the columns in the Record Selector Panel and are like column headers in SQL tables.

Record Selector Panel

The Record Selector Panel (Item #2 in the main screen above), based on the filter restrictions, is for selecting the individual attributes and records to display; it works and operates like a spreadsheet (data grid).

The Dashboard Panel

Depending on the selections in the previous two panels, the Dashboard Panel (Item #3 in the main screen above) shows the specific data visualization component depending on the display profile of the attribute type (map, story, graph, explorer, etc.). It may also be used to display a similar comparisons for identified “sticky” records (say national or state- or province-level data).

Main Menu and Functionality

The Workbench main menu (Item #4 on the screen shot above) has these options:

  • Window – view in full screen or normal mode
  • View – pick a specific panel to display
  • Record Selection Mode – determines how you add records to the Dashboard Panel; see below
  • Dashboard – basic dashboard controls and options; see below.

Selecting and Filtering Data

The main purpose of the Workbench, of course, is to select and filter data for display with various widgets. Each of the three main panels participates in this function.

Filtering Datasets, Kinds and Attributes

Filtering occurs via the Filter Panel, with its possible selections of datasets, kinds or attributes:

By default, if no items are selected in one of these sub-groups, then all items are deemed to be selected. However, restricting by datasets may filter out otherwise available kinds or attributes, and restricting by kind may filter out otherwise available attributes.

Selecting Records

Records AND display attributes are selected via the Record Selector Panel. First, let’s look at some records selections:

If there are restrictions applied via the Filter Panel, then the number of available attributes shown in the Record Selector Panel may be reduced.

Because the actual data display widgets are limited in size, there is a maximum of 50 records that can shown in the Record Selector Panel at any given time.

Attribute selections are made by checking the column item’s checkbox; this causes a new display (sub-panel) to be spawned in the Dashboard Panel (see next).

Record selections are made by clicking anywhere on a record row. Multiple selections can be made through the standard continuous range select (via the Shift key) or discontinuous range select of multiple, individual records (via the Ctrl key). Selections as made add records to all of the sub-panel displays in the Dashboard Panel.

Selecting Attributes (Dashboard sub-panels)

Selection of an attribute column in the Record Selector Panel causes a new display, or widget, to appear as a sub-panel within the Dashboard Panel. If a particular attribute or record type can be displayed with more than one display type, that is selected via the dropdown list at the lower left of each display sub-panel.

Sub-panels are created in the order of the attributes (data) selected in the Records Selector Panel, from left-to-right, top-to-bottom. In the figure above, there are three sub-panels in a 1 x 3 configuration.

But, by adding another attribute, we now add a fourth sub-panel and the overall displays shifts to a 2 x 2 configuration:

Each sub-panel is auto-sized as it is added to the canvas. There is a practical limit of about six (6) sub-panels to any given Dashboard view.

Each sub-panel may be drag-and-dropped to an alternate location within the panel.

Once embedded in a Web page, the actual sub-panel and panel sizes for a given Dashboard view may be re-set for sizes and dimensions.

Record Selection Mode

One of the main menu options is Record Selection Mode. By default, the standard selection mode is list select. Under this mode, all records selected in the Record Selector Panel are added to all Dashboard sub-panels. This is the best initial mode, since it is fast to create similar selections across all display widgets. This option is selected when the Workbench is first accessed, as shown by this menu item:

However, you may also invoke drag-and-drop mode, also selected by this same menu:

Under drag-and-drop, an individual record may be selected in the Record Selector Panel and then dragged to a specific sub-panel (display widget) in the Dashboard panel. This technique is useful when, say, you want to tailor a specific sub-panel view or provide a comparative baseline to various sub-panels.

Whichever selection mode is currently active is reported back in the title header of the Record Selector Panel. You may also switch back-and-forth between selection modes at any time.

Creating and Saving Dashboard Views

The Dashboard main menu option is where you use and re-use Dashboard views. This menu option allows you to:

  • Save Dashboard views
  • Load Dashboard views
  • Create tabs with different indicators or attributes
  • Rename tabs
  • Delete tabs, or
  • Generate HTML code for embedding a Dashboard view in a Web page.

Save or Load

A Dashboard view with its multiple sub-panels and tabs (see below) may have taken some thought and time to design. For this reason, you may want to re-use it and you may want to protect your work.

When saving a Dashboard view, you are prompted for a name, shown existing views that you might overwrite, and are asked for a password (that is later required to do any modifications) as this popup screen shows:

Re-Using Dashboard Views

The same dialog above shows how easy it is to also re-use Dashboard views. All existing saved views are shown in the dialog box. The first obvious use is to allow existing views to be modified or updated.

Another interesting possibility is to use this design for basic view “templates” that get set up, then re-used for specific records or types. In this manner a template baseline can be established that is then called up multiple times for specific tailoring.

Still another advantage of re-use is to create a standard name for a Dashboard view, say, “Main Page” that then gets embedded on the main page of your application (using the “embed” procedures noted below). Because the hosting Web page is configured to accept this named view, you can actually change the specifics of the view under the Workbench — conceivably including quite different records or widget displays — and then save it for automatic re-loading on the main page.

Dashboard Tabs

Another series of menu options from the Dashboard menu relate to “tabs”. Tabs are additional sub-panels nested under a Dashboard view. As noted before, an individual panel in a Dashboard view is practically limited to six to eight sub-panels; with tabs, this can be expanded substantially.

To begin the process of adding a tab you invoke the new tab option under the Dashboard menu:

Once named, the tab then appears as a tab button on the Dashboard view and a blank canvas is presented for adding more sub-panels (as described above):

Once saved, these tabs also get included with the persistent Dashboard view and can also be embedded in other Web pages.

Embedding Views in Web Pages

Once a Dashboard view is created, there are two ways to use or embed them: generate HTML code or treat as a Drupal node.

You invoke the generate code option from the Dashboard menu using the Get Code choice:

A “Get HTML Code to Embed” window will appear in the workbench.

You have to provide two pieces of information before you can generate the HTML code:

  1. Base URL of the Portable Control Application (leave blank if new file is placed in PCA folder)
  2. Schema for the data used (see below)

The Base URL is the URL where the Portable Control Application is located on your Web server. However, you can leave this field empty if the HTML page you want to generate is in the same folder as the PortableControlApplication.swf file.

The Schema is (one or multiple) URLs where the irXML schema that are used by the Portable Control Application are located on the Web. See further the irON specification on how to create these schema.

Once these fields are completed, can click the “Generate HTML Code” button to generate the HTML code to embed in your HTML page.

Using the Generated HTML Code

The HTML code generation tool will generate code in two places within this popup up window:

  1. The “Copy then paste this <header> GENERATED CODE </header> into Header section”, and
  2. The “Copy then paste <body> GENERATED CODE </body> into Body section”

The HTML code that appears in the first section has to be copied and pasted into the <header></header> section of your HTML file.

The HTML code that appears in the second section has to be copied and pasted into the <body></body> section of your HTML file.

Once you have copied and pasted these codes into the two sections of your HTML page, save it, and then load the resulting Web page into your browser. If you have properly filled in all fields above, you will then see the persistent Dashboard view embedded in the page.

Some HTML Page Tweaks

The Dashboard view is displayed within an HTML <div> </div> container. This container defines the size of the actual Dashboard display within in the Web page (as well as other HTML code or styling you care to insert). We suggest that what is generated in the second text area above be added within such a <div> </div> tag. Then, you may place the <div> </div> anywhere you want in your Web page layout. It is this <div> </div> container that determines the size of the Dashboard that will be displayed to the user (plus any other instructions you care to include). Here is an example of such a <div> </div> container:

  <div style="width: 800px; height: 800px">
     <script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript">
        <object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000"
          id="PortableControlApplication" width="100%" height="100%"
          <param name="movie" value="PortableControlApplication.swf" />
          <param name="quality" value="high" />
          <param name="bgcolor" value="#869ca7" />
          <param name="allowScriptAccess" value="sameDomain" />
          <param name="allowFulllScreen" value="true" />
          <embed src="PortableControlApplication.swf" quality="high" bgcolor="#869ca7"
            width="100%" height="100%" name="PortableControlApplication" align="middle"

Optional Dashboard Page

One of the advantages of piggybacking on Drupal is the ability to leverage on native and extended capabilities. A core extension to Drupal is content types via CCK, which can be managed and invoked and themed separately.

We have set up a standard Drupal content (node) type called Dashboard Views. Thus, if you follow the separate set of procedures to embed your Dashboard view in this manner, you can:

  • Assign Dashboards to standard blocks in Drupal
  • Create master listing pages of all available Dashboard views
  • Enable comments and user and community interaction and feedback
  • Provide differential access or editing by user or user group.

We have only just begun to explore the possibilities of the combined Dashboard-content type design.

A Sample Dashboard View

And, so, the result of the steps above is to create the same static Dashboard view that began this article:

Soon to Be Released

This new capability will be released as open source after the client first presents it publicly, now scheduled for the first week of November. Besides general upgrades across the entire Open Semantic Framework stack, that same release will also include a massive update to the Concept Explorer, which we will cover in a later article.

[1] These are all parts of the open semantic framework (OSF): 1) conStruct – connecting modules to enable structWSF and sComponents to be hosted/embedded in Drupal; 2) structWSF – platform-independent suite of more than 20 RESTful Web services, organized for managing structured data datasets; 3) sComponents – (mostly) Flex semantic components (widgets) for visualizing and manipulating structured data; and 4) irON – instance record Object Notation for conveying XML, JSON or spreadsheets (CSV) in RDF-ready form.
[2] The generic technical wiki (TechWiki) provides documentation for the software and related systems associated with the various OpenStructs open source software projects. It and its content is itself open source. As of the date of this writing, the TechWiki contains 233 articles under 58 categories and another 388 images.
[3] Peg is a community indicator system (CIS) that has been developed for Winnipeg by a community-wide consortium of partners spearheaded by the the United Way of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Other partners include the Province of Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg, Health in Common, and a cross section of community interests and members. Peg’s mission is to build the knowledge and capacity of Winnipeggers to work together to achieve and sustain the well-being of current and future generations.

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on October 11, 2010 at 12:31 am in Citizen Dan, Open Semantic Framework, Structured Dynamics | Comments (1)
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Posted:September 27, 2010

Resources Useful to the Understanding of Ontologies and the Semantic Web

Over the past few weeks we have been publishing a series of general background documents and tutorials useful to the understanding of ontologies. These entries have been prepared specifically with the non-expert and end user in mind.

The Ontology Tutorial Series is now complete as initially scoped. These various articles, in both originally posted form and as kept current on the OpenStructs‘ TechWiki [1], are:


[1] The tutorials were first published on this blog over the period of Aug. 9 to Sept. 20, 2010. They are now permanently maintained and updated on the TechWiki.

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on September 27, 2010 at 1:19 am in Ontologies, Ontology Best Practices | Comments (2)
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Posted:September 20, 2010

OWL 2 Has New Options; Useful to SKOS, Too

It is not unusual to want to treat things either as a class or an instance in an ontology, depending on context. Among other aspects, this is known as metamodeling and it can be accomplished in a number of ways. However, the newest version of the Web Ontology Language, OWL 2, provides a neat trick for doing this called “punning“. Why one would want to metamodel, how to specify it in an ontology, and why the OWL 2 approach is helpful are described in this post [1].

Why Metamodel?

Lightweight, domain ontologies have been the focus of this ontology series. Domain ontologies are the “world views” by which organizations, communities or enterprises describe the concepts in their domain, the relationships between those concepts, and the instances or individuals that are the actual things that populate that structure. Thus, domain ontologies are the basic bread-and-butter descriptive structures for real-world applications of ontologies.

These lightweight, domain ontologies often have a hierarchical structure for which SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System) is a recommended starting ontology [2] (see best practices recommendations). A subject concept reference ontology such as UMBEL (Upper Mapping and Binding Exchange Layer) [3], which we also recommend, also has a similar structure and a heavy reliance on SKOS in its vocabulary. Because of these structural similarities, ontologies that use SKOS or UMBEL are therefore good candidates for using metamodeling techniques.

To better understand why we should metamodel, let’s look at a couple of examples, both of which combine organizing categories of things and then describing or characterizing those things. This dual need is common to most domains [4].

For the first example, let’s take a categorization of apes as a kind of mammal, which is then a kind of animal. In these cases, ape is a class, which relates to other classes, and apes may also have members, be they particular kinds of apes or individual apes. Yet, at the same time, we want to assert some characteristics of apes, such as being hairy, two legs and two arms, no tails, capable of walking bipedally, with grasping hands, and with some endangered species. These characteristics apply to the notion of apes as an instance.

As another example we may have the category of trucks, which may further be split into truck types, brands of trucks, type of engine, and so forth. Yet, again, we may want to characterize that a truck is designed primarily for the transport of cargo (as opposed to automobiles for people transport), or that trucks may have different drivers license requirements or different license fees than autos. These descriptive properties refer to trucks as an instance.

These mixed cases combine both the organization of concepts in relation to one another and with respect to their set members, with the description and characterization of these concepts as things unto themselves. This is a natural and common way to express most any domain of interest.

The practice has been to express these mixed uses in RDFS or OWL Full, which makes them easy to write and create since most “anything goes” (a loose way of saying that the structures are not decidable) [5]. Use of sub-class relationships also enables tree-like hierarchies to be constructed and some minor inferencing (such as one concept is broader than another concept, one of the contributions of SKOS).

But such mixed uses do not allow more capable OWL reasoners to be applied, nor for the full power of query or search abstraction to be applied, nor for the ontology to be checked for consistency. These limits may be fine in many circumstances, but their lack does allow structures to evolve that may become incoherent or illogical. If data interoperability is a goal, as it is in our enterprise use cases, incoherent ontologies can not contribute or participate as structures to linking datasets. At most — and this is the case for much linked data practice — all that can be done is to make explicit pairwise connections between different dataset objects. This is not efficient and defeats the whole purpose of leveraging schema. OWL 2 has been designed to fix that (in addition to other benefits [12]).

The approach taken by OWL 2 to overcome some of these metamodeling limitations is through “punning” [6]. Recall that objects are named in RDF with URIs (IRIs in OWL 2). The trick with “punning” is to evaluate the object based on how it is used contextually [7]; the IRI is shared but its referent may be viewed as either a class or instance based on context. Thus, objects used both as concepts (classes) and individuals (instances) are allowed and standard OWL 2 reasoners may be used against them.

It should be noted, however, that this “punning” technique does not support the full range of possible metamodeling aspects [8]. Like any language, there is a trade-off in OWL 2 between expressivity and reasoning efficiency [9]. But, for lightweight, domain ontologies where the objective is interoperability across heterogeneous sources — that is, namely the main objectives of the semantic Web or semantic enterprise — this trade-off in OWL 2 now appears to be well balanced. Moreover, its automatic detection by tools such as Protégé 4 that use the OWL API also means it is comparatively easy to use and implement.

Relationship to Recommended Best Practices

An earlier chapter in this series presented some best practices for ontology building and maintenance. A fundamental aspect of those recommendations was the desirability of keeping instance data (ABox) separate from the conceptual structure (TBox) that provides the schema of relationships for those concepts [10]. Fortunately, this approach also integrates well with the metamodeling capabilities in OWL 2.

How metamodeling and the ABox-TBox split is accommodated is shown by this diagram, using trucks as an example:

Metamodeling in Domain Ontologies
Figure 1. Metamodeling in Domain Ontologies (click to expand)

The right-hand side of the diagram shows the two views possible via OWL 2 metamodeling in the TBox. In some cases, we may speak of trucks as a class of vehicle, to which individual members may belong; this is the class view. In other contexts, we may want to characterize or make assertions about trucks in our ontology, such as asserting cargo transport or engine type, in which case truck is now represented as an instance (individual) under the individual view. These two views in the TBox represent our structural and conceptual description (the “world view”) regarding this domain of which vehicles and trucks are a part.

Then, when we begin to populate our knowledge base with specific data, we do so via the ABox. In this example, as we add data about the specific brand of Ford trucks and their attributes, we link the Ford instance to the TBox via the Truck class. (Best practice also requires that we model this new attribute structure into the TBox as well, but that is a different topic. ;) .)

How Punning is Triggered in OWL 2

Punning is not triggered by annotation properties. Annotation properties applied to a class merely act as additional description or metadata about that class; the annotation property by definition does not participate in any inferencing or reasoning. You should also know that in OWL 2, certain predicates (properties) such as label, comment or description (among others) are reserved as annotation properties [11].

You can invoke the OWL 2 punning process directly or via context when your ontologies are processed with the OWL API. The basic rule to follow is:

Any entity declared as a class and with an asserted object or data property [15] is punned (metamodeled).

This test is done directly by the OWL API [7]. You can go ahead and test this out with an OWL 2-compliant editor, such as Protégé 4. Here is an example test (in N3 notation):

First, begin with some initial declarations:

foo:Car a owl:Class .

foo:Animal a owl:Class ;
owl:disjointWith foo:Car .

Then, let’s describe an object property:

foo:isEndangered a owl:ObjectProperty ;
rdf:domain foo:Animal ;
rdf:range bar:SomeSpecies .

And define and make an assertion about Apes:

foo:Ape a owl:Class ;
foo:isEndangered bar:SomeSpecies .

Now, the system begins by testing for punning and other checks, such as:

  1. isEndangered an annotation property? no
  2. what is its domain? foo:Animal
  3. this will detect and infer:
foo:Ape a owl:Class ;
foo:Ape a foo:Animal ;
foo:isEndangered bar:SomeSpecies .
  1. punning is triggered because non-annotation property has been applied to a class
  2. non-annotation properties are now assigned to named individual (which captures individual view part of the TBox above)
  3. then, can check for inconsistencies depending on the restriction(s) applied to the foo:Animal class.

In this case, no inconsistencies were found.

But, let’s now add another object (non-annotation) property:

foo:hasBrand a owl:ObjectProperty ;
rdf:domain foo:Car ;
rdf:range bar:SomeBrand .

And use it to expand our assertions about Apes:

foo:Ape a owl:Class ;
foo:isEndangered bar:SomeSpecies ;
foo:hasBrand bar:Ford .

And repeat #3:

foo:Ape a owl:Class .
foo:Ape a foo:Animal .
foo:Ape a foo:Car ;
foo:isEndangered bar:SomeSpecies ;
foo:hasBrand bar:Ford .

Now, inconsistencies are raised in the second #3:

So, the consistency check fails, because Ape can not be both an Animal and a Car.

While this is clearly a silly example, such checks are quite important as the number of objects and assertions grows in an ontology.

What Does Punning Look Like?

The punning technique works because the IRI for the object ends up being treated as both a concept (class) and an instance (individual). Thus, while the object shares the same IRI, depending on its context, it is evaluated by an OWL reasoner as a different thing (class or individual). The OWL API achieves this by actually writing out the object in both its class view and individual view. Here is an example (in RDF/XML serialization):

Input OWL:

<owl:Class rdf:about=“>

Output from Protégé with punning:


<owl:Class rdf:about=""/>


<owl:NamedIndividual rdf:about="">

Notice the duplicate definition (in RDF/XML) to the NamedIndividual. When writing out the ontology, all punned objects are duplicated in a similar manner.

The Beginning of the Transition

OWL 2 and its other general changes [12] have arrived in the nick of time. Not only were we seeing some of the weaknesses in OWL 1 that warranted updating, but we are also now being challenged with regard to how to make linked data and the many datasets in RDF effectively interoperate. Perhaps undecidability and throwing triples to the wind worked OK in the early days of our semantic Web Wild West. But now it is time for the new sheriff to bring order to the emerging chaos.

Of course only time will tell, but we believe the design decisions made by the OWL 2 working group were judicious and balanced ones to find that sweet spot between expressiveness and reasoning efficiency [9]. We also believe that, while useful in its less expressive form [2], that many new domain vocabularies based on SKOS would especially benefit from embracing the OWL 2 metamodeling techniques.

But two criticisms still remain. First, tooling support for OWL 2 and the OWL API is weak, as discussed in an earlier chapter. And, as the last chapter discussed, there are not enough practitioners that have yet taken up OWL 2, which means that best practice guidance and exemplars are still limited.

Lightweight domain ontologies can greatly benefit from these OWL 2 metamodeling techniques and the OWL RL alternative that also emerged as one of the OWL 2 profile enhancements [13]. Structured Dynamics thinks the growing scale and learning taking place around linked data and RDF datasets is now pointing the way to a necessary transition. And OWL 2 metamodeling should be one of the key components to making our semantic technologies more responsive and effective [14].

[1] This posting is part of a current series on ontology development and tools, jointly developed with Structured Dynamics with co-authorship by Frédérick Giasson, now permanently archived and updated on the OpenStructs TechWiki. The series began with An Executive Intro to Ontologies, then continued with an update of the prior Ontology Tools listing, which now contains 185 tools. It progressed to a survey of ontology development methodologies. That led to a presentation of a new, Lightweight, Domain Ontologies Development Methodology. That piece was then expanded to address A New Landscape in Ontology Development Tools, which was followed up by a listing of best practices in domain ontology building and maintenance. This portion completes the series.
[2] Alistair Miles and Sean Bechhofer, eds., 2009. SKOS Simple Knowledge Organization System Reference, W3C Recommendation, 18 August 2009. See Some common SKOS domain predicates include skos:definition, skos:prefLabel, skos:altLabel, skos:broaderTransitive, skos:narrowerTransitive.
According to the cited W3C recommendation:
. . . the “concepts” of a thesaurus or classification scheme are modeled [in the base SKOS form] as individuals in the SKOS data model, and the informal descriptions about and links between those “concepts” as given by the thesaurus or classification scheme are modeled as facts about those individuals, never as class or property axioms. Note that these are facts about the thesaurus or classification scheme itself, such as “concept X has preferred label ‘Y’ and is part of thesaurus Z”; these are not facts about the way the world is arranged within a particular subject domain, as might be expressed in a formal ontology.
Metamodeling and the use of OWL allows the base SKOS form to be expressed as a formal ontology, over which reasoning and inference may occur. Not all SKOS structures may be amenable to this (thesauri and lexical resources such as Wordnet perhaps fall into this category), but some other structures are logical and can be formalized. UMBEL, for example, fits into this category, as do many carefully crafted controlled vocabularies. When used as such, many of the SKOS predicates become OWL annotation properties.
[3] UMBEL (Upper Mapping and Binding Exchange Layer) is an ontology of about 20,000 subject concepts that acts as a reference structure for inter-relating disparate datasets. It is also a general vocabulary of classes and predicates designed for the creation of domain-specific ontologies.
[4] In the domain ontologies that are the focus here, we often want to treat our concepts as both classes and instances of a class. This is known as “metamodeling” or “metaclassing” and is enabled by “punning” in OWL 2. For example, here a case cited on the OWL 2 wiki entry on “punning“:
People sometimes want to have metaclasses. Imagine you want to model information about the animal kingdom. Hence, you introduce a class a:Eagle, and then you introduce instances of a:Eagle such as a:Harry.
(1) a:Eagle rdf:type owl:Class
(2) a:Harry rdf:type a:Eagle
Assume now that you want to say that “eagles are an endangered species”. You could do this by treating a:Eagle as an instance of a metaconcept a:Species, and then stating additionally that a:Eagle is an instance of a:EndangeredSpecies. Hence, you would like to say this:
(3) a:Eagle rdf:type a:Species
(4) a:Eagle rdf:type a:EndangeredSpecies.
This example comes from Boris Motik, 2005. “On the Properties of Metamodeling in OWL,” paper presented at ISWC 2005, Galway, Ireland, 2005. For some other examples, see Bernd Neumayr and Michael Schrefl, 2009. “Multi-Level Conceptual Modeling and OWL (Draft, 2 May – Including Full Example)”; see
[5] A good explanation of this can be found in Rinke J. Hoekstra, 2009. Ontology Representation: Design Patterns and Ontologies that Make Sense, thesis for Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam, SIKS Dissertation Series No. 2009-15, 9/18/2009. 241 pp. See In that, Hoekstra states (pp. 49-50):
RDFS has a non-fixed meta modelling architecture; it can have an infinite number of class layers because rdfs:Resource is both an instance and a super class of rdfs:Class, which makes rdfs:Resource a member of its own subset (Nejdl et al., 2000). All classes (including rdfs:Class itself) are instances of rdfs:Class, and every class is the set of its instances. There is no restriction on defining sub classes of rdfs:Class itself, nor on defining sub classes of instances of instances of rdfs:Class and so on. This is problematic as it leaves the door open to class definitions that lead to Russell’s paradox (Pan and Horrocks, 2002). The Russell paradox follows from a comprehension principle built in early versions of set theory (Horrocks et al., 2003). This principle stated that a set can be constructed of the things that satisfy a formula with one free variable. In fact, it introduces the possibility of a set of all things that do not belong to itself . . . .
In RDFS, the reserved properties rdfs:subClassOf, rdf:type, rdfs:domain and rdfs:range are used to define both the other RDFS modelling primitives themselves and the models expressed using these primitives. In other words, there is no distinction between the meta-level and the domain.
[6] “Punning” was introduced in OWL 2 and enables the same IRI to be used as a name for both a class and an individual. However, the direct model-theoretic semantics of OWL 2 DL accommodates this by understanding the class Father and the individual Father as two different views on the same IRI, i.e., they are interpreted semantically as if they were distinct. The technique listed in the main body triggers this treatment in an OWL 2-compliant editor. See further Pascal Hitzler et al., eds., 2009. OWL 2 Web Ontology Language Primer, a W3C Recommendation, 27 October 2009; see
[7] The OWL API is a Java interface and implementation for the W3C Web Ontology Language (OWL), used to represent Semantic Web ontologies. The API provides links to inferencers, managers, annotators, and validators for the OWL2 profiles of RL, QL, EL. Two recent papers describing the updated API are: Matthew Horridge and Sean Bechhofer, 2009. “The OWL API: A Java API for Working with OWL 2 Ontologies,” presented at OWLED 2009, 6th OWL Experienced and Directions Workshop, Chantilly, Virginia, October 2009. See; and, Matthew Horridge and Sean Bechhofer, 2010. “The OWL API: A Java API for OWL Ontologies,” paper submitted to the Semantic Web Journal; see Also see its code documentation at
The main text describes how via “punning” the OWL API supports two parallel views sharing the same IRI, which can enable a concept to operate as either a class or instance depending on context.
[8] Some other metamodeling aspects not supported by “punning” include full multi-level modeling (such as in UML or OMG‘s model-driven architecture) or linkage with closed-world reasoning.
[9] OWL has historically been described as trying to find the proper tradeoff between expressive power and efficient reasoning support. See, for example, Grigoris Antoniou and Frank van Harmelen, 2003. “Web Ontology Language: OWL,” in S. Staab and R. Studer, eds., Handbook on Ontologies in Information Systems, Springer-Verlag, pp. 76-92. See
[10] The TBox portion, or classes (concepts), is the basis of the ontologies. The ontologies establish the structure used for governing the conceptual relationships for that domain and in reference to external (Web) ontologies. The ABox portion, or instances (named entities), represents the specific, individual things that are the members of those classes. Named entities are the notable objects, persons, places, events, organizations and things of the world. Each named entity is related to one or more classes (concepts) to which it is a member. Named entities do not set the structure of the domain, but populate that structure. The ABox and TBox play different roles in the use and organization of the information and structure. These distinctions have their grounding in description logics.
[11] For a listing, see Even if your local ontology defines a sub-property of one of these items, such as foo:myLabel as a sub-property of rdfs:label, you are advised to still specifically declare it as an annotation property.
[12] See Bernardo Cuenca Grau, Ian Horrocks, Boris Motik, Bijan Parsia, Peter Patel-Schneider and Ulrike Sattler, 2008. “OWL2: The Next Step for OWL,” see; and also see the OWL 2 Quick Reference Guide by the W3C, which provides a brief guide to the constructs of OWL 2, noting the changes from OWL 1.
[13] OWL RL is the “rules” profile of OWL 2 and is both decidable and offers additional axiomatic support for metamodeling. As this figure drawn from Hoekstra [Fig. 3-4 in 5] shows comparing OWL 2 to OWL 1, OWL RL provides a subset of decidable description logics:
OWL 1 v OWL 2
[14] Metamodeling might be a new concept to you and some of the aspects can certainly be academic. If the references above do not sufficient satisfy your curiosity, you may want to check out some of these other useful references: Birte Glimm, Sebastian Rudolph and Johanna Völker, 2009. “Integrated Metamodeling and Diagnosis in OWL 2,” see; and Nophadol Jekjantuk, Gerd Groener and Jeff. Z. Pan, 2009. “Reasoning in Metamodeling Enabled Ontologies,” in Rinke Hoekstra and Peter F. Patel-Schneider, eds., Proceedings of OWL: Experiences and Directions (OWLED 2009); see
[15] In OWL 2, an object property is a predicate that defines a binary relationship between two objects (in specific respect to a triple, between a subject and an object). A data property is a predicate that defines a binary relationship between an object an a literal (string or data value). In contrast to object and data properties, annotation properties and reserved OWL and RDF vocabularies are explicitly excluded from this rule. Only declared object or data properties trigger the punning.

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on September 20, 2010 at 12:23 am in Ontologies, Ontology Best Practices | Comments (3)
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