Home Glossaurus

About the Glossaurus


Project history


Terminology in any discipline shifts and evolves over time to reflect the practices of a given community. In a domain such as new media art, however, where practice is closely tied to emerging technologies, we see accelerated vocabulary developments as terms are repurposed or invented by artists and practitioners on an ongoing basis. For those involved in the documentation and preservation of such works, changing vocabulary can lead to a lack of clarity in the use of terms or to difficulties in adequately expressing what is important to the identity of a work.


Mandate of the Terminology Committee

Given this situation, a Terminology Committee was established within DOCAM. The committee began by creating a bilingual glossary, which provided definitions written by the committee or taken from other sources, including the Variable Media Glossary, V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media, Groupe de recherche en arts médiatiques de l’UQÀM, and the Office québécois de la langue française, [1] as well as a number of other publications such as the January-March 2009 issue of artpress 2. The case studies conducted by DOCAM and the DOCAM Web site content were also analyzed to identify pertinent terms. Once the glossary was created, the committee’s next mission was to develop a thesaurus.


Technological aspects



From the time the project began, a number of questions were asked about the technology best suited to the creation of a thesaurus-like terminological structure and the addition of notes such as the usage context, evolution of the term, and its definition(s). The committee decided to use the SKOS standard as the basis for this work. SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System) is a “family of formal languages designed for representation of thesauri, classification schemes, taxonomies, subject-heading systems, or any other type of structured controlled vocabulary.” [2] Recommended by the W3C since August 18, 2009, the SKOS standard offered the kind of interoperability required for the DOCAM thesaurus and will allow for greater reuse of the committee’s work.


Thesaurus implementation based on SKOS

SKOS models knowledge organisation systems as concept schemes, in which concepts are networked together by hierarchical and associative relationships. A SKOS concept is an abstract idea or notion that is described by a preferred label and multiple alternative labels, in as many languages as desired. These labels are the equivalent of the terms that would make up the structure of a term-based thesaurus, but in this model they are purely descriptive, as the structure is built only through semantic associations of concepts.


The Terminology Committee worked with the SKOS documentation to develop a data model and relational database structure for a concept-based thesaurus; this work was based on SKOS but is not a strict implementation of the standard. It was decided that a simple Web-based tool accessible via any browser was the ideal mechanism through which to make the thesaurus accessible to DOCAM researchers and the community at large. The database was built in MySQL, and navigation and administrative interfaces were built using PHP.


This concept-based structure allowed us to avoid the problems often encountered in making associations between terms whose meanings are subject to ambiguity and change over time. An abstract concept, however, may change the labels by which it is known without changing its meaning or disrupting the network of associations it supports. Notes, definitions and other supporting texts are associated with concepts rather than labels.


The tool

In 2009, a series of usability tests were conducted to determine the most practical Web interface for users of the thesaurus. At the end of September, once the technological components of the Web-based tool had been completed, the thesaurus was populated with all of the data that had been collected up to that date. During the fall of 2009, a few final tests were carried out to make the interface more user-friendly.


Terminological aspects

Other structures

We focused on creating a faceted thesaurus, with certain components of the hierarchy based on existing frameworks or models. For example, the Manifestation and Reception facet is based in part on the proposed interaction model developed by V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media. [3] The Activities facet was developed based on the ‘Digital Artwork File,’ a lifecycle model of media art works developed by the DOCAM Documentation Committee. [4] Once the five principal facets had been decided upon, the terms themselves were selected.



The first terms included in the thesaurus were taken from the glossary. By starting with the basic glossary terms and all of the documentation inherent to DOCAM, a preliminary selection was made. Next, a number of media art reference sites were examined and more terms chosen. We then turned our attention to terms associated with those already selected. Given that this initial search was extensive, the Terminology Committee decided to narrow its focus by identifying selection criteria for the final product. These criteria allowed the committee to focus its search and eliminate certain terms previously selected that were not relevant to this particular context.



Due to the bilingual nature of the thesaurus, the committee’s researchers held many meetings to validate linguistic equivalents and verify, on an ongoing basis, the suitability of the terms chosen in light of the established criteria. To ensure that the information would be as clear as possible, we searched for definitions in the language of each term. However, as it was sometimes difficult to find a firm definition for specialized terms that were nonetheless highly pertinent, some definitions in the other language were written by committee members. Given the challenges involved in ensuring equivalence between English and French, we also used a generous amount of transcreation, i.e. writing the information to sound natural in the target language, without translating word for word. The Terminology Committee has tried to maintain a certain level of consistency between the English and French components of the thesaurus. However, because terminological resources available in the media arts sector are much less extensive in French than in English, certain definitions may be more comprehensive in one language than the other, but the committee has ensured that both components offer the same basic information.



From September 2008 to September 2009, intensive searching of terms was conducted. This searching ran parallel to the stabilizing of the technological aspect of the tool based on SKOS. Next, the thesaurus was analyzed from beginning to end using the web-based tool. The facets and their respective contents in both languages were reassessed from a global perspective; this in turn allowed the thesaurus to be harmonised without impinging on any outstanding adjustments that might still need to be made. On the other hand, despite the fact that the tool will not evolve after January 2010, the vocabulary of media arts inevitably will.


Evolution of word meanings

During the early stages of the project, an historical component was added to the strictly terminological aspect of the tool. Based on a request from the other committees, the Terminology Committee decided to integrate new terms as well as their evolution over time, their shifting meanings, and their modifications. However, the committee was obliged to limit the scope of their work, and the historical content is not integrated in the Glossaurus at this time.


Faceted Hierarchy

Thesaurus facets

The DOCAM thesaurus is comprised of five facets: Activities, Agents, Art Practices, Components and Manifestation and Reception and displays concepts in a three to four-level structure. These concepts are available in French or English, and it is easy to shift from one language to the other to see the equivalents of the terms in each language. Each concept is also associated with a definition representative of the usage of the concept within the DOCAM documentation for each of the two languages. It is possible to search for a word directly through an alphabetical listing or to arrive at a concept via the thesaurus’s hierarchical structure. A third navigation option is hypertext, with concepts linked to one another via semantic links.

Key elements

As in any thesaurus, each term selected is placed in a structure that allows it to be associated with broad categories as well as to other similar terms within a usage context. The tool permits users to visualize not only those terms preferred by DOCAM members but also terms that reflect the context of the preferred term; i.e. alternative terms. However, far from discouraging the use of these other terms, the tool includes them to identify certain terminological practices outside the DOCAM environment. They also serve to increase the number of terms retrieved in searches. And, as in any glossary, each term is also defined. The definitions provide semantic and encyclopaedic information, and their references explain the initial context of the definition within an environment different from DOCAM.


In summary, each concept is associated with a node in the thesaurus structure, a preferred term and a definition in both languages, alternative terms in one or both languages, and associated concepts to help users gain an overall understanding of the media arts.



Terminology Committee


President: James Turner

Alain Depocas
Brigitte Kerhervé
Louise Poissant
Research assistants:
Sarah de Bogui (2006)
Marc Boucher (2006)
Corina MacDonald (2007-2009)
Claire Nigay (2008-2009)
Laure Guitard (2009)



[1] Terminology Committee Resource List

[2] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_Knowledge_Organization_System (consulted November 28, 2009)

[3] V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media: http://archive.v2.nl/v2_archive/projects/capturing/1_3_metadata.pdf

[4] Please see the documentary schema created by the Documentation Committee