The value of any kind of data is greatly enhanced when it exists in a form that allows it to be integrated with other data. One approach to integration is through the annotation of multiple bodies of data using common controlled vocabularies or 'ontologies'. Unfortunately, the very success of this approach has led to a proliferation of ontologies, which itself creates obstacles to integration. The Open Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) consortium is pursuing a strategy to overcome this problem. Existing OBO ontologies, including the Gene Ontology, are undergoing coordinated reform, and new ontologies are being created on the basis of an evolving set of shared principles governing ontology development. The result is an expanding family of ontologies designed to be interoperable and logically well formed and to incorporate accurate representations of biological reality. We describe this OBO Foundry initiative and provide guidelines for those who might wish to become involved.