Document and Develop Community Understanding

Besides documenting a domain of knowledge, ontologies allow communities to express a shared understanding of concepts. Creating ontologies forces communities to systematically address the concepts that they share. For example, if a community uses a concept such as "water pressure," then it may well have a very particular meaning in that community. Defining concepts in ontologies resolves ambiguity and thus forces the community to reach consensus on definitions.

In addition, the process of defining these shared concepts forces communities to be rigorous in their approach to shared concepts. Ontologies require a breadth of structured definition in order to be effective. Definitions or assumptions that are not described in an ontology using structured concepts and explicit terminology are unavailable for inferencing or use. To avoid this, ontology producers must be rigorous and thorough in their production methodology.

Communities can also rely on larger ontological frameworks for use with their domain. By establishing links to "upper ontologies" or "foundation ontologies," which have a broad range of linked concepts already specified, communities can bridge their concepts to larger concepts.

For example, SUMO (Suggested Upper Merged Ontology) is an upper ontology which combines many domain ontologies in order to act as a foundation for the creation of other domain ontologies. It has 20,000 terms and includes ontologies of countries, economy, finance, people, geography, government, and so on. Using these community-supplied definitions decreases the amount of effort needed to create domain ontologies, while increasing their efficacy.

Suggested Citation

Alexander, P. 2011. "Document and Develop Community Understanding." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed January 15, 2021.