Last month having written about Taxonomies, I thought I would spend time understanding Ontologies as the word popped up a lot associated with Taxonomies.
The challenge became how to explain the use of a word “Ontology” that is mostly used in academic and data scientist circles. Whereas the term Taxonomies is mostly used commercially in business.
Recap – Taxonomy – the hierarchical classification of entities. Including the principles that underlie such classification – according to Wikipedia.
- A car is a subtype of vehicle, a car is a vehicle but not every vehicle is a car
On the technical side, ontologies imply a broader scope of information. People often refer to a taxonomy as a “tree”, and extending that analogy, an Ontology is often more of a “forest”. An ontology might encompass a number of taxonomies, with each taxonomy organizing a subject in a particular way.
An ontology is a formal way of organizing information. It includes putting things into categories and relating these categories with each other. They can have any type of relationship between categories, whereas in a taxonomy there can only be hierarchies.
The synonym for ontology would be model, and the synonym for taxonomy would be tree.
A technical difference between taxonomies and ontologies deals with structure and overall level of detail.
Both ontologies and taxonomies can track key words, but an ontology is likely to classify these words more carefully, perhaps as parts of speech, which human language, how precisely one word is the exact synonym for another.
The taxonomy of a tiger is that it is a subtype of cat (classification), but an ontological description may be that the tiger has a relationship to Asia, the continent on which it lives.”
The term “golf” could appear in several taxonomies.
It could be under a “Human Activities” tree (Human activities -> leisure activities -> sports -> golf).
It could also be under a taxonomy concerned with Apparel (Apparel -> Casual/Active Apparel -> Sporting Apparel -> Golf Clothing and Accessories),
Let’s say it also appears under a third Consumer Electronics Taxonomy (Electronics -> Handheld Gadgets -> Outdoor & Navigational -> Gadgets for Golfers)
Each would be considered a taxonomy tree, and you could think of the “branches” as touching each other around the “golf” related nodes.
Other intersecting trees might include “Travel Destinations”, “Famous People & Celebrities” and “TV Broadcasts” – these could all also interest with the concept of “golf”.
Why this Matters?
Are you considering taxonomies / information management for an upcoming project?
If so, the concepts of use for ontologies overlap with a host of other information retrieval, knowledge management and advanced metadata systems.
If not, and ontologies are a matter of curiosity, I hope I have provided a taster. If not, hit Wikipedia & Google remembering to use both terms (Taxonomies & Ontologies).
Image credit: www.cse.buffalo.edu