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Re: [OEP] The n-ary relations draft is ready for outside review

From: Natasha Noy <noy@stanford.edu>
Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2005 16:51:41 -0700
Message-Id: <3B1D5652-161E-4388-86EB-653D6B982345@stanford.edu>
Cc: swbp <public-swbp-wg@w3.org>
To: Guus Schreiber <schreiber@cs.vu.nl>


Thanks a lot again for your review. At the OEP teleconference today,  
we had a long discussion about the points you made in your review  
that were not addressed by the new draft published last week [1]

The feeling of the task force is that it is ok to leave the note as  
it is. It really seem to be in the eye of the beholder what is a  
"real" n-ary relation and what is not. And there was a general  
agreement that RDF reification doesn't really address the issue  
brought out in the examples in the note. Thus, the treatment that the  
note already gives RDF reification (explaining that it addresses a  
different issue) seems sufficient.

Would you be comfortable moving forward with the note in the state it  
is now?

Thanks a lot,


[1] http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-swbp-wg/2005Sep/0019.html

On Aug 8, 2005, at 4:39 AM, Guus Schreiber wrote:

> Natasha, Alan,
> Her is my review. Sorry for the delay. The reviews is a bit biased  
> by my use of this note in a ontology-engineering course, which  
> mainly focused on issues wrt real-world modeling (and not on RDF/ 
> OWL details).
> Guus
> PS. My spelling checker wanted me to replace "reification" with  
> "deification" :-).
> Defining N-ary Relations on the Semantic Web
> Editor's Draft 20 June 2005
> http://smi-web.stanford.edu/people/noy/nAryRelations/n- 
> aryRelations-2nd-WD.html
> [[
>   Issue 1: If property instances can link only two individuals, how do
>   we deal with cases where we need to describe the instances of
>   relations, such as its certainty, strength, etc?
>   Issue 2: If instances of properties can link only two individuals,
>   how do we represent relations among more than two individuals?
>   ("n-ary relations")
>   Issue 3: If properties can link only two individuals, how do we
>   represent relations in which one of the participants is an ordered
>   list of individuals rather than a single individual?
> ]]
> One could say this is not really a n-ary relation problem, but the
> "how to make statements about statements" problem, , i.e an
> alternative for RDF reification. I propose to make this explicit in
> the text, and move the issue to be the second issue.
> Vocabulary (issue 1 & 2): some readers might not grasp "property  
> instances"
> directly. Suggest to either add in parentheses "cf. tuples" or drop
> "instances" (as done in the description of issue 3).
> [[
>   Use case examples
> ]]
> Again, examples 3 is the prototypical n-ary relation, so maybe this
> should be the first example. The point is that for people from
> relational databases the first two examples are not "real" n-ary
> relations: e.g. in example 1 the probability value is functionally
> dependent on the person and the disease. In example 3 there is no such
> dependency (the primary key is the combination of all three
> arguments). So, reification would work with examples 1 and 2, but not
> with example 3 (because the instances are not unique).
> [[
>   4. United Airlines flight 3177 visits the following airports: LAX,
>   DFW, and JFK. There is a relation between the individual flight and
>   the three cities that it visits, LAX, DFW, JFK. Note that the order
>   of the airports is important and indicates the order in which the
>   flight visits these airports.
> ]]
> UML users may not recognize this as an n-ary relation. UML has the
> notion of "ordered" associations, which would handle this
> situation. It is in fact a binary relation where one of the arguments
> is not a simple individual but an ordered list of individuals. I
> suggest to add a UML note.
> Reflecting on this, we might just want to say:
> - issue 2 / example 3 describe the "real" n-ary relation issue
> - issue 1 and 3 / example 1+2 and 4 describe related but different
> problems that can be modeled using the same patterns.
> But maybe I'm making it too complicated now.
> [[
> Sec. Representation patterns
>   ... Examples 1, 2, and 3 above correspond to this pattern. For  
> instance,
>   in the example 1 the instance of a new class Diagnosis_Relation
>   would represent the fact that Christine has been diagnosed with a
>   breast tumor with high probability.
> ]]
> "correspond to" is too strong. Suggest to rephrase as: "Examples 1, 2,
> and 3 above can be modeled with this pattern.".
> Maybe it is a good place here to indicate that example 1 and 2
> could alternatively have been represented with RDF reification.
> I suggest to include example 3 here, also because a name such
> as "Purchase" would seem to come less out of the blue than
> "Diagnosis_Relation".
> I suggest to include a UML note, indicating that pattern 1 is
> close to what is called an "association class" in UML.
> [[
>   Pattern 1
> ]]
> In line with the previous comments, I suggest to change the order of
> the use cases. The current use case 3 should be the first one.
> [[
>   Use Case 1: additional attributes describing a relation
> ]]
> I've tried to explain the modeling solution in my
> ontology-engineering" class and observed the following:
> - it requires "breast tumor" to be treated as an instance, where it
> will usually be a class (one could see it as a use case for the
> "classes as values" note).
>   I suggest to consider using an instance of BreastTumor as the
>   value. This also has the advantages described in the value-partition
>   note (easy to add later the statement that MyBreastTumor is an  
> instance
>   of a subclass of "BreastTumor").
> - there are two other solutions which are worth discussing as
> alternatives:
>   1. Person -> hasDiagnosis -> Disease -> hasProbability -> Number
>   This would work if the instance of disease is not BreastTumor" but
>   a unique instance of BreastTumor.  By the way, I do not think this
>   solution would work in practice, as a statement about a diagnosis
>   with a certain probability is always time dependent (which we cannot
>   easily add).
>   2. Representing Diagnosis in a similar way as Purchase.
>   My students found this solution easier to understand (for whatever
>   it is worth). They found the juxtaposition of BreastTumor and
>   Probability weird, as the second is clearly despondent on the
>   first. The only real difference of course is the direction of the
>   hasDiagnosis property.
> [[
>   Use Case 2: different aspects of the same relation
> ]]
> This use case is a better example than use case 1 of how to use the
> pattern for avoiding the use of RDF reification.
> A drastic solution could be to drop use case 1 altogether and keep  
> this
> one in. Adding time information to this example would make it more
> realistic.
> "TemperatureObservation" would be a good name for this relation. I  
> think
> this use case is close to the Observation pattern in Fowler's book on
> Analysis Patterns (I tried to verify this, but I cannot find my
> copy of the book).
> [[
>   Use Case 3: N-ary relation with no distinguished participant
> ]]
> I think it is worthwhile to point out that in use case 3 the
> domain actually provides a natural name for the relation as a whole,
> namely "Purchase". There are many of these nouns that represent static
> aspects of an activity and thus are candidates for this pattern:
> "transaction", "enrollment", "subscription". This makes it different
> from use cases 1 and 2 (but see also my remarks there).
> [[
>   Pattern 2: Using lists for arguments in a relation
> ]]
> Alternatives which avoid the use of  RDF list would be worth
> mentioning:
> 1. A Flight  is linked to a number of FlightPorts. Each FlightPort  
> is a
> class, representing the relation between a port and its sequence  
> number
> in the Flight. I find this rather ugly, but it is in a sense close to
> the way use case 1 is represented.
> 2. A Flight is linked to a number of FlightMovement instances. Each
> Flight movement represents a relation between from/to
> airports. This would probably be my preferred solution.
> -- 
> Free University Amsterdam, Computer Science
> De Boelelaan 1081a, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
> Tel: +31 20 598 7739/7718; E-mail: schreiber@cs.vu.nl
> Home page: http://www.cs.vu.nl/~guus/
Received on Monday, 12 September 2005 23:51:57 UTC

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