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Re: Getting back to "terms"...

From: Thomas Baker <thomas.baker@bi.fhg.de>
Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2005 13:30:54 +0100
To: Leonard Will <L.Will@willpowerinfo.co.uk>
Cc: SKOS <public-esw-thes@w3.org>, Alan Gilchrist <cura@fastnet.co.uk>, Ron Davies <ron@rondavies.be>
Message-ID: <20050207123054.GA844@Octavius>

On Sun, Feb 06, 2005 at 02:45:09PM +0000, Leonard Will wrote:
> >I was noticing that "term" is still defined using "identify".
> >I had suggested this be changed to "label" and thought you
> >were agreeing (see digest below).
> 
> Yes, sorry, I overlooked that one. Now changed.

Excellent.

> >On further reflection, however, I am still bothered by the potential 
> >for confusion between the notion of a "thesaurus term" (a lexical or 
> >natural-language label, which may _sometimes_ also be a descriptor 
> >identifying a concept) and an SKOS or Dublin Core "term" (a concept, or 
> >unit of thought, identified with a URI and labelled with 
> >natural-language "labels").
> >
> >If the Glossary is to be both SKOS-compatible and 
> >thesaurus-world-compatible, this poses a tricky problem, because I'm 
> >not sure "term" itself can be defined generically enough to encompass 
> >both.
> 
> Yes, it would be a pity if there were confusion, but I do think that 
> this is a SKOS problem, because using the word "term" as equivalent to 
> "concept" is very misleading. We have been struggling for some time to 
> emphasise the distinction between these two things. Is the usage you 
> quote officially recognised by the Dublin Core people too? Can you give 
> a reference?

I do not think it is just a SKOS problem, but a more
fundamental problem of differences in the usage of the word
"term" between the Semantic Web modeling world (DCMI, SKOS,
RDF) and the world of thesauri.

For example, the key document for DCMI's
vocabularies is called "DCMI Metadata Terms"
(http://dublincore.org/documents/dcmi-terms/).  In fact,
the base namespace used for DCMI terms uses the string
"t-e-r-m-s": http://purl.org/dc/terms/ (though one
should of course not make semantic inferences from that
string).  See also how the draft "DCMI Abstract Model"
(http://dublincore.org/documents/abstract-model/) defines
"term".  It is not entirely clear to me whether DCMI and SKOS
are entirely in line with RDF, because some RDF specs go so
far as to say that URI references and literals are "terms":

-- In the draft SPARQL spec, an "RDF Term" is defined as
   "anything that can occur in the RDF data model" -- i.e.,
   literals and URI references! [1]

-- This is somewhat in line with the formulation of a vocabulary
   as a "set of URI references" [2,3].

Either way: in the DCMI/SKOS/RDF models, "term" is not being
used for a "label", but for a conceptual entity -- whether
that conceptual entity is a concept (e.g., in DCMI and SKOS)
or an entity in the RDF graph.

As I said, perhaps there is no way around this fundamental
difference, e.g. with the changes I suggested.  But in
that case, someone approaching DCMI, SKOS, and RDF with
the Glossary definitions in mind could potentially get the
wrong idea about what the "terms" of the DCMI, SKOS, and RDF
vocabularies really are.

I was hoping that one could make this clear by giving "term"
a very general definition (as either an identifier _or_ a
label) and then qualifying its usage in various ways (e.g.,
"thesaurus term" as opposed to an "RDF term").  However, if
that is too subtle or confusing for the normal reader (as you
suggest below), then some other way might have to be found...

Tom

[1] http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-sparql-query/
[2] http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-mt/
[3] http://www.w3.org/2003/glossary/subglossary/owl-guide.rdf/20

> >However, one step in the right direction could be to avoid using "term" 
> >itself as a synonym for label (as the glossary currently does). 
> >Instead of equating "term" with "thesaurus term", one could perhaps 
> >define:
> >
> >   thesaurus term
> >       word or phrase used as the label for a concept
> >
> >       Thesaurus terms can be either preferred terms
> >       or non-preferred terms.
> >           or
> >       Thesaurus terms can be either preferred labels or
> >       non-preferred labels.
> >
> >   term
> >       name, word, or phrase used as an identifier or label for a concept
> 
> I don't think that there is sufficient distinction in the definitions 
> you give for "thesaurus term" and "term" for the difference to be clear 
> to the normal reader. I would assume that "thesaurus term" means "a term 
> found in a thesaurus", and I don't think that that adds enough to be 
> worth including.
> 
> >   concept
> >       unit of thought
> >
> >       ...Concepts exist in the mind as abstract entities independent
> >       of the words or phrases used to express them.
> 
> For the moment I have changed this to:
> 
> ... Concepts exist in the mind as abstract entities which are 
> independent of the terms used to label them.
> 
> >   label
> >       words or phrases associated with (or "used to
> >       express"?) an abstract entity
> 
> I don't think that this is sufficiently distinct from "term" as defined 
> above.
> 
> >   identifier
> >       an unambiguous reference to an abstract entity within a given
> >       context
> 
> I know that this has s specialised meaning in SKOS work. If it is to be 
> understood more generally, the definition you give would need to be 
> expanded or clarified with examples.
> 
> I'll copy this to my colleagues Alan and Ron on the BSI working party, 
> in case they have any views. Stella will get it anyway as she is on the 
> SKOS list.
> 
> Leonard
> 
> -- 
> Willpower Information       (Partners: Dr Leonard D Will, Sheena E Will)
> Information Management Consultants              Tel: +44 (0)20 8372 0092
> 27 Calshot Way, Enfield, Middlesex EN2 7BQ, UK. Fax: +44 (0)870 051 7276
> L.Will@Willpowerinfo.co.uk               Sheena.Will@Willpowerinfo.co.uk
> ---------------- <URL:http://www.willpowerinfo.co.uk/> -----------------

-- 
Dr. Thomas Baker                        Thomas.Baker@izb.fraunhofer.de
Institutszentrum Schloss Birlinghoven         mobile +49-160-9664-2129
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft                          work +49-30-8109-9027
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Personal email: thbaker79@alumni.amherst.edu
Received on Monday, 7 February 2005 12:28:45 GMT

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