[tdwg-tag] TDWG ontology revisited ... a newcomer's perspective

Kevin Richards RichardsK at landcareresearch.co.nz
Thu May 14 23:01:15 CEST 2009

You make a good point here Roger, but I definitely think there is benefit in having both approaches - ie a complete model of our domain that people can reuse and base their specific use cases on, and the higher level architecture (the "map") for building bridges etc.

We are currently working on a "semantic" technologies project here at Landcare, and we are currently drawing up a (brief) high level ontology for our domain (ie biodiversity informatics in general, really).  We are using SKOS to do this.  I could put this on a wiki page as an example - when we have completed it - then we could build on it from there??  Did you have something like SKOS in mind (ie the domain topics are instances) or something more like an ontology of the domain (where the "topics" are classes themselves)?


From: tdwg-tag-bounces at lists.tdwg.org [mailto:tdwg-tag-bounces at lists.tdwg.org] On Behalf Of Roger Hyam
Sent: Thursday, 14 May 2009 10:52 p.m.
To: lynette.woodburn at csiro.au
Cc: tdwg-tag at lists.tdwg.org
Subject: Re: [tdwg-tag] TDWG ontology revisited ... a newcomer's perspective

Hi Lynette,

Thanks for your comments ( and Greg and Gregor).

I think you raise an interesting point here that needs cleared up. It is something we have got wrong in the past.

Some people think the TDWG ontology should be a model of the biodiversity domain (particularly taxonomy) as it exists today, incorporating actual working practices and what is in the literature.  "Just represent what we do today"

This is *NOT* what I am interested in building. A good analogy is that of a map. What I am interested in doing is building the a map for the major highways with enough detail in it to enable *machines* (not humans) to do sensible stuff with the data so as to facilitates our understanding of biodiversity. There should only be enough detail in the map to make data exchange work.

It may be worthwhile building a big, detailed ontology/map of the biodiversity domain for human consumption and this should inform the machine readable map but I think there is a big danger of conflating (great word) the two. This is what we have done in the past.

Anyone want to volunteer to run a wiki that describes the biodiversity informatics domain? This would be a great resource.

All the best,


 For two reasons:

1) It gets us precisely nowhere.

On 14 May 2009, at 04:30, lynette.woodburn at csiro.au<mailto:lynette.woodburn at csiro.au> wrote:

Back to basics ...

Anyone new to biodiversity informatics (in general) and TDWG (in particular) might be expected, as a first step, to seek a broad understanding of the scope of the knowledge domain which is of interest to the community they've just joined.  Next, they're likely to want to gain an understanding of each of the main concepts and to discover how those concepts relate to one other.  Delving yet deeper, curiosity will lead them to seek details about features used by the community to characterise each of those main concepts.  So, gradually, it is anticipated that newcomers will gain an understanding of the meaning associated by their fellow community members with elements (concepts, features, relationships) within the knowledge domain.  (Those elements are, after all, the chief subjects of discourse amongst community members.)

This fantastic voyage of discovery, these first steps into Aladdin's Cave, ought to be made easy for any newcomer.  Instead, TDWG presents a dizzying array of perspectives on disparate subsets of elements within the knowledge domain, often with only cryptic, tenuous links binding them together.  'Horses-for-courses'-drivers clearly exist for these subsets, but where is the common community understanding of where each element fits into the broader, shared knowledge domain which is TDWG's scope?

I fully support any initiative which more effectively leads newcomers (and not-so-newcomers) to that place: that place where I would hope to find, in plain expressions devoid of techno-speak, a description of each real world element (concept, feature, relationship), together with a simple representation (a label?) by which the TDWG community prefers each to be referred; that place which evolves, but endures, independently of technological fashions and particular implementations; that place I can visit to paint a picture in my mind's eye of TDWG's own Aladdin's Cave.

Lynette Woodburn
Atlas of Living Australia

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Roger Hyam
Roger at BiodiversityCollectionsIndex.org<mailto:Roger at BiodiversityCollectionsIndex.org>
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
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