Towards Conceptual Clarity

Have you ever found yourself in a discussion with someone, thinking you are talking about the same thing, then realizing midway that you were in fact talking about two different things? That you were using the same word, but were ascribing different meanings to it?

This happened over and over during Phase 2 of the Linked Digital Future initiative as we continued modelling activities in Wikidata. Words can be ambiguous. A single word can convey multiple meanings (polysemy) while different words can denote the same thing or concept (synonymy). For example, the term “conductor”. Is this an occupation, a position within an organization or a role in a production? It turns out it could be all three. When representing this work-related concept as an RDF triple (subject-predicate-object), you may need a distinct predicate or property to represent the occupation, the position and the role.

In the last year, we worked with Conseil québécois du théâtre, Culture Creates and others to define good practices for representing performing arts information as linked open data. This required us to set words aside and to focus on a simple, high-level concept that they represent. Then, we had to describe these concepts in clear, domain-neutral ways, so that they would convey the same meaning to other people across languages and domains. In one case, for example, we borrowed the concept of ‘group’ from the CIDOC-CRM ontology to represent all performing arts groups, ensembles, troupes and organizations, no matter their legal form (see the resulting Wikidata item and the discussion).

By the end of Phase 2, we had achieved significant progress towards a harmonized performing arts ontology – the semantic layer in the vision for a linked open data ecosystem for the performing arts. This progress was documented in the WikiProject Performing arts and in the Artsdata.ca documentation. But much still needs to be done. Modelling efforts continue in collaboration with the Performing Arts Information Representation Community Group and the LODEPA community (Linked Open Data Ecosystem for the Performing Arts).

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The Resource Description Framework (RDF) is a set of W3C specifications for representing information over the Web. The RDF triple is the fundamental building block for the entire web of linked open data.

CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) is a classic RDF ontology developed by the cultural heritage sector. Alignment with CIDOC-CRM enables information reuse across cultural sectors.

This figure represents a decentralized architecture. There are four layers: data layer, semantic layer, application layer and presentation layer.

This figure from the report A Linked Digital Future for the Performing Arts represents the architecture of the international linked open data ecosystem for the performing arts