How Users Explore Ontologies on the Web: A Study of NCBO's BioPortal Usage Logs

28 Oct 2016  ·  Simon Walk, Lisette Espín-Noboa, Denis Helic, Markus Strohmaier, Mark Musen ·

Ontologies in the biomedical domain are numerous, highly specialized and very expensive to develop. Thus, a crucial prerequisite for ontology adoption and reuse is effective support for exploring and finding existing ontologies... Towards that goal, the National Center for Biomedical Ontology (NCBO) has developed BioPortal---an online repository designed to support users in exploring and finding more than 500 existing biomedical ontologies. In 2016, BioPortal represents one of the largest portals for exploration of semantic biomedical vocabularies and terminologies, which is used by many researchers and practitioners. While usage of this portal is high, we know very little about how exactly users search and explore ontologies and what kind of usage patterns or user groups exist in the first place. Deeper insights into user behavior on such portals can provide valuable information to devise strategies for a better support of users in exploring and finding existing ontologies, and thereby enable better ontology reuse. To that end, we study and group users according to their browsing behavior on BioPortal using data mining techniques. Additionally, we use the obtained groups to characterize and compare exploration strategies across ontologies. In particular, we were able to identify seven distinct browsing-behavior types, which all make use of different functionality provided by BioPortal. For example, Search Explorers make extensive use of the search functionality while Ontology Tree Explorers mainly rely on the class hierarchy to explore ontologies. Further, we show that specific characteristics of ontologies influence the way users explore and interact with the website. Our results may guide the development of more user-oriented systems for ontology exploration on the Web. read more

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