New Series: Building the Bible Knowledgebase

Since coming to Logos Bible Software, i’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take what was previously a spare-time labor of love (mostly published at SemanticBible and discussed in this blog) and turn it into a full-time effort. Consequently, i’ve spent most of the last two months starting to build the infrastructure and foundations of a major new semantic web effort at Logos that i’m currently calling simply the Bible Knowledgebase (BK for short).

I first got excited about these ideas more than 3 years ago, when i envisioned a semantic annotation layer on top of Scripture to provide meaning-based automated processing and integration with other resources. I started building this knowledgebase from the bottom up with New Testament Names (overview, 2006 SBL presentation), an OWL ontology and set of instance data describing each named thing in the New Testament. Logos has been working on similar kinds of resources for some time: their Biblical People feature is a rich set of information about named people in the entire Bible (both Old and New Testaments) that disambiguates other people with the same name, describes their family relations, and provides all the Scripture references where they are mentioned.

Starting from these key digital resources (which, by the way, are virtually unique in the world of Biblical studies, and still rare in general), my goal is to build a machine-readable general knowledgebase of semantic reference information about the Bible. I’ll provide more details about what this means and why it matters in a follow-on post: but i’m finding this to be a tremendously exciting opportunity. It’s also a tremendous engineering challenge that will take significant infrastructure and long-term, incremental development.

I didn’t come to this task empty-handed: i’ve worked with concepts, standards, and tools from the Semantic Web for several years now. I also had the privilege of working with several former colleagues at BBN Technologies who were part of the development of OWL, the Web Ontology language, and expert in Semantic Web development. But there’s a big difference between a personal hobby project and a full-blown effort that will scale up by 100-1000 times and support future development of new Logos products and capabilities (and oh, by the way, it had better be industrial strength, maintainable, and extensible). While i’m learning a lot along the way, much of it comes from hands-on experience and trial-and-error learning: there isn’t a wealth of practical information out there about how to build large Semantic Web knowledgebases. So i wanted to share my experiences, to leave a trail for others who may come this way in the future. I also hope to hear from those whose experience may keep me from falling into the numerous traps that line the path: so please send me (that’s Sean) your email feedback, [myfirstname] at logos [the dot goes here] com with relevant comments and pointers.
You should expect a lot of technical detail, but i plan to focus on practical implementation over theory. If you want to follow this series only, here’s the RSS feed for the Bible Knowledgebase category.