Ontologies in software engineering and beyond


Constructing common ground

Ontologies, that is “dictionaries” containing all the terms and their relationships, provide a common vocabulary to people working in a project.

Have you ever found yourself in a new situation, a foreign country perhaps, and wondered what people around you are talking about? Furthermore, have you ever tried to communicate with a person coming from a different culture and background? If yes, you have probably looked up a word or two in your travel guide or dictionary.

Ontologies contain terms and their relationships

Such guides or dictionaries could be useful in other contexts as well. What if you start a new project and need to understand what it is all about? This is actually what the OpenReq team, for instance the researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), are contributing to in software engineering. They are working with ontologies in the requirements elicitation stage of projects in the field of software engineering. Ontologies are something resembling dictionaries containing all the terms and their relationships. In addition, they include the graphical presentation of the relationships between the terms.

Ontologies provide a common vocabulary

Ontologies may be helpful as they provide a common vocabulary to people working in a project. A common vocabulary ensures that people refer to the same thing when they use a term. Misunderstandings are, therefore, less likely to happen. A good example is a project where a company is implementing an online shopping system. People working in the project should understand that the products in the basket are the ones that the customer is considering to buy.

Ontologies help to understand new concepts

In addition to software engineering projects, ontologies could, ideally, be used as public reference dictionaries of an area of interest such as online shopping mentioned above enabling all the people interested in the issue to understand it. Some years ago, when online shopping was something new, customers actually could have well needed an ontology as well. They may have had difficulties understanding the concept of (virtual) shopping basket. It might also be interesting to have an ontology on such a complex scientific field as requirements engineering – a demanding task for the researchers in the OpenReq team and the field as a whole.

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