Creating and Serving Ontologies

If you are thinking about creating your own ontology, you must first do several things to build it, and then a few more tasks to make it useful.

Building An Ontology

The steps to build an ontology depend on what kind of information you want to represent.

Many ontologies are created to capture understanding of a domain. These ontologies relate the different concepts in the domain to each other. A typical resource in such an ontology may say something like:

atmospheric_winds Create sea_surface_waves

Such relationships describe how the domain concepts relate to each other, and make it possible for automated systems to chain those relationships together. The guide Creating a Domain Ontology describes the basic steps to create this type of "domain ontology."

Other ontologies are created to capture terms in a vocabulary or thesaurus. Unlike the more sophisticated relationships in a domain ontology, these term ontologies primarily serve to give each concept a unique reference on the Web, so that other ontologies can specify those concepts in their own relationships. The term ontologies can capture any auxiliary information the user wants to associate with the term, for example a definition (almost always essential in a good term ontology), or a comment. The concepts involved in creating a term ontology are described in Creating Ontologies Using Vocabularies.

Promoting an Ontology

Once you have an ontology, you have to decide how you want to make it available to others. The most basic decision is whether you are going to serve your ontology yourself, or let someone else serve it for you. The first is easier, but may be less useful for the community that wants to use your ontology. The tradeoffs are described in Who Serves Your Ontology?

Finally, you will want to consider the best way to make your ontology visible to your community. Similar to "announcing" your Web page to search engines, it can be useful to register your ontology with an ontology search tool, or with a repository. This may have been addressed already if you served your ontology through a repository in the previous step, but additional measures may help make your ontology more accessible and useful. Find out more about these techniques in the guide Registering and Accessing Your Ontology.


As an ontology provider, you are creating very useful information, and providing it to both your immediate user community and to the semantic web community. Following good practices in developing and serving the final product can allow both of these user communities to reap the maximum reward from your efforts, and make your own application of your work easier and more powerful.

Suggested Citation

Graybeal, J. 2011. "Creating and Serving Ontologies." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed December 12, 2019.