Friday, 16 December 2011

Towards an Ontology of Coffee Drinks

An interesting post appeared on Google+ [1] about the various forms of coffee drinks, eg: cappuccino, latte etc, and this was expressed using a Venn diagram. The semantics of the actual diagramatic notation were loose - as is to be expected - but importantly the meaning of what the diagram was trying to convey was clear. There's quite an interesting discussion about what actually constitutes a cappuccino vs a latte vs espresso etc - all good stuff to put in an ontology of coffee.

As a start and as an exercise in diagrammatic notation [2] of such things here's my concept/Euler diagram of the same:

NB: I'm no expert on the various types of coffee drink so I'm not sure if the actual coffee drink types are strictly correct, I took them from the original article on Google+. If I do drink coffee then an espresso or something "normal", ie: coffee (dark roast) brewed in hot water + milk + sugar ... sorry Robert's Coffee and Starbucks I'm probably not a target customer in that respect....I'm a tea drinker.

So that gets me to a slightly more interesting example - that of a Chai Latte, which to my taste should satify the following specification (using the same notation): (Aside: I think these diagrams are really quite beautiful....)

Now we can argue that I should have included other types of tea and blends etc, maybe different types of milk (fullfat, goat etc), but I think the point is clear.

A few notes on these: while the diagrams have pretty well defined semantics, the statement the diagrams are making about the "real world" may not be so easily definable (see the discussion about coffee drink types as an example). My specification of a chai latte might not be yours, however we now have a formal framework in order to have a sensible and meaningful discussion without invoking the nastier parts of Wadler's Law, ie: we can concentrate on the problem at hand and not discuss whether the shade of green for the relationships is the correct shade of green...

[1] Rohan Aurora, A Simple Venn Diagram to Understand Coffee, 7 Dec 2011
[2] Visual langauges an ontologies...earlier blog posting of mine to be found here: Visual Modelling and Ontologies and a link to the Visual Modelling Group at Brighton who have been working on this.

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