Document Domain Knowledge

From many perspectives, the goal when creating an ontology is to effectively describe a particular domain or "universe." Given the number of assumptions that go into even a single individual's understanding of their discipline or their area of research, capturing all the relevant knowledge can seem overwhelming. However, ontologies force communities to think about these assumptions in very explicit terms, as they capture and describe the data and relationships in the ontologies they will use in their work.

Because ontologies use a formal grammar and structure, we can tell computers how to analyze the information they contain. This structure and the myriad of rules employed in ontologies, allows computers to analyze concepts and data in new ways. By following the structure, humans can describe the world in a way that computers can understand. As a particular community creates more descriptions using ontologies, the model of their domain becomes ever more complete, and the power of the collected ontologies grows.

Considering that ontologies are built from resources and the relationships between those resources, it may seem surprising that the knowledge of diverse communities can fit into the single structure. In fact, different communities may need to define new relationships to describe how their resources are related. The formal grammar of ontologies lets each community describe the nature of those custom relationships—for example, specifying whether a relationship is transitive, or whether it is the inverse of another relationship—so that computers can perform operations using them.

The final and perhaps most powerful element of working with domain knowledge involves inferencing, a technique that allows computers to create new relationships and meaning based on what they already know through previous ontologies. In other words, computers can discover information that a human didn't explicitly describe for them. This provides exciting opportunities both for communities that produce ontologies, and for other communities that can make use of the ontologies.

Suggested Citation

Alexander, P. 2011. "Document Domain Knowledge." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed December 11, 2019.