Ontology governance?

How do organizations that make heavy use of ontologies implement design-time governance?

A quick search tonight didn’t return much on that topic (note to Google: “governance” is not synonymous with “government”). Am I imagining a problem that doesn’t really exist? Am I too influenced by SOA governance use cases?

Sure, a lot of the pain that SOA governance tries to address is self-inflicted. When used to deal with contract versioning hell (hello XSD) and brittle implementations (hello stub generation), SOA governance is just a bandage on a self-shot foot. Thanks to the open-world assumption, deliberate modeling decisions (e.g. no ordering unless required), a very simple metamodel and maybe some built-in versioning support (e.g. owl:backwardCompatibleWith, owl:incompatibleWith, owl:priorVersion, owl:versionInfo, etc, with which I don’t have much experience), in the RDF/OWL world these self-inflicted wounds are a lot less likely.

On the other hand, there are aspects of SOA governance that are more than lipstick on a pig and it seems that some of those should apply to ontology governance. You still need to discover artifacts. You may still have incompatible versions. You still have to deal with the collaborative aspects of having different people responsible for different parts. You may still need a review/approval process, or other lifecycle aspects. And that’s just at the ontology design level. At the service level you have the same questions of discovery, protocol, query capabilities, etc.

What are the best practices for this in the semantic world? What are the tools? Or alternatively, why is this less important than I think?

Maybe this upcoming book will have some answers to these practical concerns. It was recommended to me by someone who reviewed a draft and had good things to say about it, if not quite as enthusiastically as Toru Ishida from Kyoto University (from the editorial reviews on Amazon):

“At the time when the world needs to find consensus on a wide range of subjects, publication of this book carries special importance. Crossing over East-West cultural differences, I hope semantic web technology contributes to bridge different ontologies and helps build the foundation for consensus towards the global community.”

If semantic technologies can bring world peace, surely they can help with IT management integration…

PS: if you got to this page through a Web search along the lines of “XSD versioning hell” I am sorry that you won’t find the solution to your problems here. Tim Ewald and Dave Orchard have recommendations for you. But the fact that XML experts like Tim and Dave have some kind of (partial) workarounds doesn’t mean the industry doesn’t have a problem. Or you can put your hopes in XSD 1.1 if you are so inclined (see these slides for an overview of the versioning-related changes).

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