Citizen Science on the Social and Semantic Web, PhD proposal, Joel Sachs


Friday, September 9, 2011, 9:00am - Friday, September 9, 2011, 11:00am


Ph.D. Dissertation Proposal

A question faced by semantic web developers is how much explicit semantics to include in their ontologies. A typical answer is that it depends on the use case, since different use cases demand different thicknesses for the semantic layer. This suggest several questions, including: What types of patterns in the rdf graph make a semantic layer "thick" or "thin"? What does it mean for an ontology to support a use case? and Can we create ontologies that support multiple use cases, in situations where those use cases have conflicting ontology-design requirements?

I explore these questions in the domains of biodiversity informatics and citizen science, and propose to evaluate the extent to which a variety of social and semantic computing use cases can be supported within a common ontological framework. Broadly speaking, these use cases involve social computing mechanisms for publishing ecological observations on the semantic web, with the goal of integrating them with other sources of biodiversity and biocomplextity data (range maps, food webs, evolutionary and taxanomic trees; conservation and invasiveness status, etc.). My hypothesis is that relatively flat and minimally constrained representations are not only sufficient, but often necessary to enable integration with other biodiversity resources on the Semantic Web.

I also explore the related issue of establishing working relationships between expert-engineered ontologies and tag-based folksonomies. I seek to demonstrate that, in many cases, the types of ontologies that are well-suited for biodiversity data integration are also well-suited to tag-driven evolution.


  • Tim Finin (chair)
  • Anupam Joshi
  • Tim Oates
  • Cynthia Parr
  • Yelena Yesha
  • Laura Zavala

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