Huge ontologies and taxonomies that attempt to boil the ocean and describe 'the sum of human knowledge' tend to make me deeply uncomfortable. At the other end of the scale, though, there is clearly a place for reaching some shared understanding on how we describe things. Where does the line lie between 'deeply uncomfortable' and 'clearly a place'? I'm not sure... but I know the extremes when I see them.
It was in this vein that my colleague, Tom Heath, recently devoted his time to working with like-minded peers from across the Semantic Web community to organise, host, and participate in the first VoCamp.
As Tom writes in his report on the Nodalities blog;
"We need more vocabularies because people are increasingly motivated to share their data online, and need some way of describing the data itself in a structured fashion. If people use the same vocabularies when describing data of the same type, or at least some of the same terms, it makes sharing and integrating those data sets much easier."
And yes, one of those upon which the group chose to focus their attention was an ontology for whisky. Not, perhaps, fully in the spirit of Tim O'Reilly's recent call for us to tackle the problems that 'matter,' but a useful learning exercise for this disparate group of technologists.
VoCamp moves to Ireland next month, and I look forward to seeing whether the group can move beyond the inevitable disputes over spelling the name of their favourite tipple to embrace O'Reilly's call.