Sunday, September 16, 2007

minor application update

The web application has received a small update. Ontology information pages now display more details again (example: GeneOntology information page), this functionality had been broken by the code overhaul we performed this month. In addition we expanded the available namespaces with the sequence ontology, an ontology about gene sequence types and features. The sequence ontology contains 1311 concepts.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why we need the semantic web

Two search strings with the same syntax can have dramatically different semantics. What if your looking for pages about a less popular topic which happens to share the same syntax as a highly popular yet 'totally irrelevant to you' topic? Finding what you need will take time and ingenuity. The newly introduced concept feeds (external feeds matching the concept of the given page), for example those associated with the concept page on Cells (in it's biological sense), demonstrate our dire need for semantically enabled search engines.

'Cell', as an English term, applies to a wide variety of concepts: 'cell' in the biological sense, 'cell' as in 'cell phone', 'cell' as in prison cell, 'cell' as in an aggregation of people, and many more including some combinatorial uses (e.g. a title for games, novels, etc). No search engine at the moment is capable of disambiguating between these different meanings and filter results accordingly. The books feed will display a novel by Stephen King, and a book about 9/11. The blog feed lists a police break-up of a Nazi-cell, many entries about cell phones and one about solar cells. The Digg news feed is again mainly about cell phones. Imagine if one of them offered the ability to filter results pertaining only to cell in the biological sense, you might imagine that becoming the next-gen search engine.
And that's exactly what ontologies do, provide a means for disambiguating syntactically equal but semantically different items. Ontologies tell you that there are in fact different concepts (owl classes), one being a designed artifact, another a part of an organism, yet another being a certain aggregation of people, etc etc which all share the same language term 'cell'. Knowing this is already half the work.

You could argue that dictionaries might point to you the different semantics as well, yet by browsing the ontology you have easy access along a variety of axes (horizontal & hierarchical) to a plethora of related concepts such as organisms and cell structures for cell in it's biological sense, telephony in the case of cell phones, social groups and people in the case of 'cell' as an aggregation of people.. you get the picture. When using an ontology as a backbone for indexing, you might be able to figure out which concept applies by examining the context in which it is found.

Tagging/Indexing with concepts, as opposed to language terms, might be a core requirement for future search engines.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Concept Feed Widget, a new level of ontology interaction.

We are pretty excited about some new functionality we added to the Ontology Concept Information Pages. By selecting the appropriate tab button you can now retrieve a list of the most relevant Books, Blog entries and Digg news Items (of any) about the concept itself.
For a quick example: see Domain Ontology - Ontology Directory. This gives you some amazingly focused search results with only one handclick away.

The new Concept feed widget retrieving books about 'domain ontology'.

Monday, September 3, 2007

New OntologyOnline WebApp Version

A new version of the ontologyonline web application has been uploaded.

This marks the completion of the first phase of a major code overhaul. The most important result is that all ontologies now aggregate in one MySQl database.

The biggest change should be noted in the search results section. The search engine now mines all namespaces and the search output provides the ability to filter on both namespace and language (if the results contain terms from multiple languages). I'm hoping the transition went smooth, although a little hiccup here and there is not totally avoidable.

OntologyOnline Search Engine
Screenshot of the search engine in action.

About the search engine

The ontology online search engine differs quite dramatically from regular google/yahoo etc searches. Each ontologyonline web page is about one given unique ontology concept. In contrast to google/yahoo and similar search engines the search is not about retrieving relevant pages which contain the specified search string in text, but about retrieving exact concepts: As such our search engine attempts to match the search string against all names and synonyms (including different languages) of the concepts present in the knowledge warehouse.
If no exact match can be found, a list of partial matches (where the name or synonym contains part of your search string) will be displayed, in alphabetical order.

So if one for example wishes to search for neuroblast, the search string 'neuro' will yield partial matches for, amongst other, 'neuroblast'. Functionality of the engine is expected to increase/improve in the future.