Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Web Ontology Language 2 - A new version of a standard for representing knowledge on the Web

Today, W3C announced a new version of a standard for representing knowledge on the Web. OWL 2, part of W3C's Semantic Web toolkit, allows people to capture their knowledge about a particular domain (say, energy or medicine) and then use tools to manage information, search through it, and learn more from it.

Furthermore, as an open standard based on Web technology, it lowers the cost of merging knowledge from multiple domains.

Communities organize information through shared vocabularies.

Booksellers talk about "titles" and "authors," human resource departments use "salary" and "social security number," and so on. OWL is one W3C tool for building and sharing vocabularies.

Consider the application of OWL in the field of health care. Medical professionals use OWL to represent knowledge about symptoms, diseases, and treatments. Pharmaceutical companies use OWL to represent information about drugs, dosages, and allergies. Combining this knowledge from the medical and pharmaceutical communities with patient data enables a whole range of intelligent applications such as decision support tools that search for possible treatments; systems that monitor drug efficacy and possible side effects; and tools that support epidemiological research.

As with other W3C Semantic Web technology, OWL is well-suited to real-world information management needs. Over time, our knowledge changes, as does the way we think about information. It is also common to think of new ways of using data over time, or to have to combine data with other data in ways not initially envisioned (for example, when two companies merge and their data sets need to be merged as well). OWL is designed with these realities in mind.

OWL can lower software development costs as well by making it easier to design generic software (search tools, inference tools, etc.) that may be customized by simply adding more OWL descriptions. For instance, one simple but powerful feature of OWL is the ability to deduce two items of interest as being "the same" — for instance, that "the planet Venus" is the same thing as "the morning star" and as "the evening star." Knowing that two items are "the same" allows smart tools to infer relationships automatically, without any changes to software.

The new features in OWL 2 are based on the features people most requested after using OWL 1. OWL 2 introduces OWL profiles, subsets of the language that offer easier implementation and use (at the expense of expressive power) designed for various application needs.

To get started with OWL 2, see the OWL 2 Overview (click here) and OWL 2 Primer (click here).