This very good question by Peter Mika asked on the Bibliographic Ontology Specification Group yesterday.
So, why? Peter said:
I’ve read Frederick Giasson’s call for this group on PlanetRDF.com. But before getting started on the actual topic of developing an ontology for bibliographies, my question is: why develop a new ontology? What is lacking in SWRC/BuRST or PRISM that this new ontology would add? I’m asking this, because I’m concerned by (even) more fragmentation in this space.
I am not a citations a bibliographic references domain expert. In fact, my knowledge in the domain is somewhat limited. However, my recent blog posts about the integration of Zotero into the semantic web brought a lot of questions related with citations and bibliographic ontologies. Bruce D’Arcus appeared from the Zotero web forum, unsatisfied with current ontologies. Bruce knows a lot about all that stuff: he is a domain expert. So I asked to Bruce if he would be willing to start the development of a new Bibliographic Ontology project that would answer its need. In fact, as I noted on my blog and on the wiki, its needs are applied to real problems: OpenOffice and Zotero.
From there, I put in place the current communication infrastructure to start talking about these problems. In less than 1 day, 17 people subscribed to the mailing list, 11 comments have been posted on my latest blog post, etc.
This tells me that there is a real interest in the question. Why? Possibly because current ontologies doesn’t work well for everybody.
In fact, it wasn’t working well for me neither. When I tried to see what was the bibliographic ontologies landscape when I worked on that problem for Zitgist, I found that it was the jungle. There was so many possible ways to describe them, to describe what was a document, etc. There were no best practice guides, no examples, etc; people were doing anything they wanted. This was rendering the data useless for Zitgist. This is for that exact reason that I am putting time in that initiative right now.
An example to illustrate the problem
I will illustrate the current problem with bibliographic ontologies with the following example:
I gone to the BuRST home page and clicked on one of its example. I then checked the code, I saw some SWRC things… then I tried to dereference the URI of this ontology to get the schema explaining what these properties were. Then I tried to find the properties/classes: they were not there.
I think this simple example explains many the problems out there. There are no consistency, no good doc (I can’t find the good SWRC specification document at the moment), no examples, etc.
Next wave of users
The next wave users for these ontologies aren’t computer scientist students working on some academic projects. The next wave of users for these ontologies are Web developers that has only a basic knowledge of all that stuff. What these people need are good doc, consistent concepts and methods, good examples and a community backing the development of these projects.
This is not what I find right now.
Community driven ontology development
To answer to Peter’s mail, Bruce said:
The first corresponds to a narrow range of academic users (last I looked it wouldn’t work for the humanities or law), and the second is just a series of properties, mostly already covered by DC and maintained by a fairly closed industry group not very interested in RDF.
Later Chris Bizer wrote on my blog:
yes, it would really be nice to have a community-backed ontology for describing publications which is a bit more Semantic-Webby than Dublin Core. So developing a best practice for mixing DC, FOAF, SIOC and the event ontology would really useful.
Once you guys have developed this best practice, we are happy to change the D2R mapping of our DBLP server (http://www4.wiwiss.fu-berlin.de/dblp/) and the RDF book mashup(http://sites.wiwiss.fu-berlin.de/suhl/bizer/bookmashup/index.html) , so that they export RDF according to your best practice.
I think that these two examples describe what is happening. Now people are requesting open communities (could we talk about open-sources communities?) to develop these ontologies.
So why this ontology?
The idea here is to develop yet-another-bibliographic-ontology. But the goal isn’t to re-invent the wheel another time. The goal is to fill-in the blanks, to develop a sort of ontology framework developed in such a way that we can easily plug future extension modules, and to make it interacting easily with already existing ontologies. Yes in RDF you can “theorically” plug everything with everything, but in the reality, this is not that simpler and effective. This new ontology initiative should also act as a “best practices” guide for describing citations and bibliographic references on the Semantic Web for developers that has little knowledge in the semantic web.
This is a question of adoption of the semantic web by Web developers. These people that just don’t have the time to check all these little “fragmented” ontologies wrote in OWL, RDFS or whatever, without too explicit comments, without documentation, examples, etc. This is why microformats are going that well: because there are clear documentation, good examples, etc. Like microformats or not, they got the attention of developers because there is support, docs, examples and a strong community developing them.
So all these projects (the Music Ontology, the Bibliographic Ontology, the Linked-Open-Data community, etc.) make me wondering: now, as I write that, are the challenges that the Semantic Web has to face are more social than technical?
I think this is the time now to show to the World that these things work, and work quite well. Unfortunately for some people, we will have to ask these questions and create communities supervising such ontology developments. Entrepreneurs will tell you that the clients are always right. And the clients of ontologies are developers and they won’t spend their precious time in some bric-a-brac projects.
Finally, what I am proposing here is to create an open-community to supervise the development of an ontology describing citations and bibliographic references. This community will be composed of experts of the domain; companies and organizations that want to use it; developers and hobbyists that has interests in it. And as I said above: “The goal is to fill-in the blanks, to develop a sort of ontology framework in such a way that we can easily plug future extension modules, and to make it interacting easily with already existing ontologies. Yes in RDF you can “theorically” plug everything with everything, but in the reality, this is not that simpler and effective. This new ontology initiative should also act as a “best practices” guide for describing citations and bibliographic references on the Semantic Web for developers that has little knowledge in the semantic web.“