Ontology Visualization Methods—A Survey

Katifori, A., Halatsis, C., Lepouras, G., Vassilakis, C., and Giannopoulou, E. 2007. Ontology visualization methods—A survey. ACM Comput. Surv. 39, 4, Article 10 (October 2007), 43 pages DOI = 10.1145/1287620.1287621 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1287620.1287621

Objective: The article aims to present a variety of ontology visualization techniques and
categorize their characteristics and features in order to assist method selection and promote future research in the area of ontology visualization.

Visualization Types: Researchers first grouped the visualizations by type –

  •  Indented list
  •  Node–link and tree,
  •  Zoomable
  •  Space-filling
  • Focus + context or distortion
  •  3D Information landscapes.

Within each of these groupings, visualizations were also characterized by the number of space dimensions they employed: 2D or 3D.

Note: The The survey was extremely comprehensive and covered many visualizations. For that reason, and because some of the particular systems and tools are no longer in existence, they are not explored in further detail here.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Specific Visualization Methods:

Indented List

  • Advantages: Simplicity, Familiarity.
  • Disadvantages: Represents a tree, not a graph so only represents inheritence and not role relations.

Node Link and Tree

  • Advantages: Good overview of hierarchical structures.
  • Disadvantages: Inefficient use of screen space.


  • Advantages: Good for browsing to specific nodes.
  • Disadvantages: Do not offer effective overview of hierarchical structure, Do not support user in forming mental model of hierarchy.

Space Filling

  • Advantages: Well-suited for tasks that involve an overview of certain properties of the ontology instances or an overview of areas with many or few nodes.
  • Disadvantages: Not particularly effective for structure related tasks.

Focus + Context or Distortion

  • Advantages: Effective at providing global overviews and displaying many nodes at once. They can be used for focusing on certain nodes and viewing their related nodes, and for quick browsing of the ontology to locate specific classes or instances.
  • Disadvantages: They do not offer a very obvious representation of
    the hierarchy structure as the user has to see the link label in order to distinguish parent from child nodes. Display/Label clutter often a problem.

3D Information Landscapes

  • Advantages: These could probably be effective for hierarchy overview related tasks, if coupled with appropriate search and filtering tools and intuitive, simple, and effective navigation mechanisms.
  • Disadvantages: They have not yet been used much in practice and there is alack of extensive evaluations as well.


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