TThere’s a critical difference between subject based knowledge organization schemes created to organize books and other documents, (e.g. LCC, DDC, and LCSH), which are defined in terms of the things which a work is about, and rigorous, class based ontologies that are based on the properties of the things themselves.

Some relationships may be valid in terms of subjects, but may not apply directly to the things themselves. For example, a car wheels are part of cars, and cars are a type of vehicle. These relationships are always* true, and are examples of two different types of hierarchical relationships – partitive (is-part-of) (BTP) , and generic (is-a-kind-of) (BTG)

Always-aboutness is the combination of all the different types of hierarchical relationship – this is the Broader Term (BT) relationship. In terms of aboutness, we can easily say that everything about car wheels is always about cars, and everything about cars is always about vehicles. We can also directly infer that everything about car wheels must always be about vehicles. In other words, the always-aboutness relationship must be transitive.

Transitivity doesn’t hold when you mix different types of hierarchy – car wheels are not a kind of vehicle, but that has nothing to do with the transitivity of plain unqualified Broader Term.

When thinking about systems for organizing information, it’s absolutely critical to remember the difference between the document, and the thing the document is about.

Or in other words:

This is your Unicorn. This is your Unicorn on SKOS. 

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