Social Issues

This section is in preliminary draft form, and is publicly available with the understanding that it is not an official representation of the MMI position. This preamble will be removed once the document has been internally reviewed. Ed.—2008.09.25

When serving externally developed ontologies, the ontology provider can obtain considerable respect, and avoid considerable dismay, if social customs are fully attended. These customs include appropriate attribution, consideration of ownership, preservation of proprietary rights, and respect for the contribution that has been made.

This section attempts to capture the key requirements for the ontology provider to meet when acting as a clearinghouse.

Ontology Customs

It is worth noting that maximum use and benefit from ontologies only results from their widespread accessibility. For concepts of the semantic web to work well, the ontologies that help define it must be available for viewing, storing, mapping, and reusing by other ontology tools.

For these reasons, ontology providers typically display their ontologies in the public domain, without expectation of compensation by users. (Partly as a result, there is no widely adopted standard for embedding license restrictions in ontologies -- akin to a robots.txt file on a web server, or a license embedded in an image. So the automated processes that harvest ontologies are unlikely to exercise judgment in which publicly visible vocabularies they use in which ways.) The open exchange of information this enables is a clear benefit to the greater community, albeit at some cost to individual recognition.

That said, there is plenty of room to encourage proper social behaviors, and discourage ignorant ones, to increase the willingness of other contributors to the growing semantic framework.

Why is Source Recognition a Principle?

An ontology that is presented by a provider, based on the vocabularies or other information resources provided by an external source, owes its existence to the intellectual effort of the provider. Social customs dictate that the debt be paid, at a minimum by simple acknowledgment. There are obvious social benefits to doing so: sources receive the appreciation of the community, and are encouraged to contribute more of their material; and the value of the original intellectual effort is more fully realized.

But there are also several technical benefits to recognizing the source. They are as follows:

  • Validity review: The provided ontology can be checked for errors against the nominal origin.
  • Information discovery: The sources can potentially be queried for more information on terms or the ontology as a whole.
  • Error repair: By informing the sources of errors, corrections in the source material can be made, to improve both the source material and the derived ontology.
  • Credibility estimation: Knowing the source can provide critical clues as to the usefulness of the product.
  • Provenance establishment: Though the source, additional information can be established (or inferred) about how the ontology came into existence.
  • License negotiation: Any concerns or requests for reusing the semantic information are more likely to be resolved.
  • Update automation: The provision of specific, computable originator information can be used to drive the automated update of the ontology resource. 

Thus, we emphasize source attribution (by organization and individual, and with considerable auxiliary metadata) as essential services of the ontology provider.

Recognition Processes

Two places must incorporate suitable recognition of an ontology's source materials: the ontology metadata (which should be embedded in the ontology), and the foremost visual presentation (e.g., the 'web home') of the ontology or a term from it.

The methods for incorporating source metadata in an ontology are discussed in the Technical Approaches section of this Community Vocabularies section. It is essential that someone who downloads an ontology from the ontology provider receives a document that incorporates the key metadata about the ontology's source. The originator name is one of the most central metadata elements in this record.

When a visitor is browsing the ontology via the web, it is essential that the ontology's presentation include a clear presentation of the ontology metadata generally, and especially a prominent presentation and acknowledgement of the originator. Ideally, the visual representation of this acknowledgment includes a visual logo for the organization or project providing the ontology. (Ideally, these logos can be accumulated so as to present all the data sources collectively.)

Another important form of recognition is due diligence for the licensing or other terms of use for an ontology, for example citations. Many scientists require citations to prove their work has been used, and thereby justify their work to their community. The ontology provider must provide a way for the appropriate citation to be presented with every ontology (discussed in the Technical Approaches section), and ideally a way to emphasize the citation in any presentation of material from that ontology.

A basic measure of interest in an ontology is to track its use, particularly the number of times its terms have been used, either in response to queries or as direct accesses. This is a critical metric for the ontology provider to maintain, and also an important form of recognition for the source provider. (It also provides critical feedback to ontology developers, who have an appreciation for the most used elements of the ontology.) In a similar vein, the number of times a term is mapped is another indication of the term's importance.

Security and Authentication

Although it is beyond the ability of most ontology providers at first, some sources will want assurances that either (a) they can know who accesses their ontology, (b) they can control who receives their ontology, or (c) both. This suggests that authentication and access mechanisms must be integrated with an ontology repository if it is to become a serious service provider.

As the semantic community becomes more sophisticated in ocean science, the desires for more advanced security measures (role- and policy-based security, for example) will grow. These features can be added over time, if the original security framework is sufficiently capable; otherwise significant upgrades may be necessary to provide the full set of features that is needed.