Summary of the First Meeting of the Ontlogy Interest Group

The first meeting of the ontology interest group at the EBI took place today. As James phrased so aptly in his last post, we used the meeting to build bridges. The agenda was as follows:

  • Introductions – What are we all working on and why did we come to the meeting?
  • Topics – What are we interested in, what would we like to see the group do and which activities might be interesting to the members?
  • Timings – When would be an appropriate time for the meeting? What frequency?
  • Blogging – Who would like to contribute to this blog to keep the ontology conversation going?
  • Any other business.

Here is a summary of the answers to some of the questions:


The meeting was attended by a diverse set of people, both in terms of the groups who were represented (diverse groups from the EBI and members of the Sanger) and in terms of their interest in ontologies: some of us were ontology developers and maintainers, others consumers of ontologies and yet others usability and interface experts and those who were curious about ontologies and wanted to learn more about ontologies/ontology technology and understand how they could leverage these in their own work.


The diversity of the attendees was also reflected in the diversity of the topics they felt the interest group should address. The following topics were raised:

  • Understanding the use of ontologies – how to annotate data?
  • Once you have annotated data – how do you build a query system? Data retrieval?
  • Ontology visualisation/interaction of different user groups/user types with ontologies. Visualisation, visualisation, visualisation – how does one visualise complexity/complex ontologies?
  • How does an ontology project identify/communicate/interact with its users?
  • How do you develop ontologies? Best practices? How do you interact with the existing ontologies/ontology groups/OBO Foundry….the politics of ontology development.
  • Ontology mapping/integration – how to deal with context dependence.
  • From terminology/dictionary to taxonomy to ontology.
  • Reasoning over ontologies: how to go about it? How useful is it? What are the technical issues? What are the scientific issues? How many people actually do it “in anger”?
  • Ontologies in the context of semantic web? Repository technology? Data in RDF with ontological support?
  • Formal Ontology – the philosophical foundation/basis of ontology…what are functions?
  • Application examples of ontologies/ ontologies in production systems? Data standards/formats – interaction with ontology

As a group we agreed that, during our first meetings, we should step back and aim to get an overview over the various meanings the term “ontology” can have for different groups and to understand the evolution of the discipline and the interaction/cross-over between philosophy and computer science. Furthermore, we should try to get an overview over some of the tools currently used in the area of ontological engineering and look at some use cases which illustrate the potential use of ontologies in research or information systems. In the meeting following this, we would like to start looking at how to develop an ontology, best practice, etc…


The group agreed, that regular meetings  are essential for maintaining momentum and that, at least for the first several meetings, we should aim to meet every fortnight. However, it was also felt that the exact date an time would best be determined by doodle poll. Furthermore, we all agreed that extra activities would always be welcome. Extra activities could, for example, include a reading group in formal ontology, tutorial style activities etc…


We decided that a combination of blog and mailinglist would be the most appropriate form of communication for now. There have been no volunteers so far wishing to contribute blog posts, but we hope that that will change in the future.

Any other business

There was no further business to discuss.

I hope that this is a fair summery of the first meeting of the Ontology Interest Group. Please add anything, which I have omitted, iswrong or which you would like to see discussed further in the comments section of this post! I will send round a link to a doodle poll for the next meeting via the internal ontology mailing list.


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