Ontology Evolution

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The research area of ontology engineering seems to have reached a certain level of maturity, considering the vast amount of contemporary methods and tools for formalising and applying knowledge representation models. However, there is still little understanding of, and support for, the evolutionary aspects of ontologies. This is particularly crucial in distributed and collaborative settings such as the Semantic Web, where ontologies naturally co-evolve with their communities of use. For managing the evolution of single ontologies, established techniques from data schema evolution have been successfully adopted, and consensus on a general ontology evolution process model seems to emerge. Much less explored, however, is the problem of evolution of interorganisational ontologies. In this “complex” and dynamic setting, a collaborative change process model requires more powerful engineering, argumentation and negotiation methodologies, complemented by support for context dependency management.. It turns out that much can be learned from other domains where formal artefacts are being collaboratively engineered. In particular, the field of system engineering offers a wealth of techniques and tools for versioning, merging and evolving software artefacts, and many of these techniques can be reused in an ontology engineering setting. Based on this insight, this chapter gives a unified overview of the wide variety of models and mechanisms that can be used to support all of the above aspects of ontology evolution. The key remaining challenge is to construct a single framework, based on these mechanisms, which can be tailored for the needs of a particular environment.