Discovering Beaten Paths in Collaborative Ontology-Engineering Projects using Markov Chains

Biomedical taxonomies, thesauri and ontologies in the form of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as a taxonomy or the National Cancer Institute Thesaurus as an OWL-based ontology, play a critical role in acquiring, representing and processing information about human health. With increasing adoption and relevance, biomedical ontologies have also significantly increased in size... For example, the 11th revision of the ICD, which is currently under active development by the WHO contains nearly 50,000 classes representing a vast variety of different diseases and causes of death. This evolution in terms of size was accompanied by an evolution in the way ontologies are engineered. Because no single individual has the expertise to develop such large-scale ontologies, ontology-engineering projects have evolved from small-scale efforts involving just a few domain experts to large-scale projects that require effective collaboration between dozens or even hundreds of experts, practitioners and other stakeholders. Understanding how these stakeholders collaborate will enable us to improve editing environments that support such collaborations. We uncover how large ontology-engineering projects, such as the ICD in its 11th revision, unfold by analyzing usage logs of five different biomedical ontology-engineering projects of varying sizes and scopes using Markov chains. We discover intriguing interaction patterns (e.g., which properties users subsequently change) that suggest that large collaborative ontology-engineering projects are governed by a few general principles that determine and drive development. From our analysis, we identify commonalities and differences between different projects that have implications for project managers, ontology editors, developers and contributors working on collaborative ontology-engineering projects and tools in the biomedical domain. read more

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