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

Roger Hyam rogerhyam at mac.com
Thu May 14 12:51:30 CEST 2009

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 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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> tdwg-tag mailing list
> tdwg-tag at lists.tdwg.org
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Roger Hyam
Roger at BiodiversityCollectionsIndex.org
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, EH3 5LR, UK
Tel: +44 131 552 7171 ext 3015
Fax: +44 131 248 2901

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