Saturday, January 17, 2009

Topic Maps and the SemWeb

Half a year ago, I had a posting discussing Katherine Adams' seminal article about librarians and the Semweb. Katherine made a point about Topic Maps, which she believes will ultimately point the way to the next stage of the Web's development. They represent a new international standard (ISO 13250). In fact, even the OCLC is looking to topic maps in its Dublin Core Initiative to organize the Web by subject.

In the same posting, Steve Pepper, an independent researcher, writer and lecturer who has worked with open standards for structured information for over two decades, made a very interesting comment. He argues that:

Topic maps is really spearheading is nothing short of a paradigm shift in computing -- the notion of subject-centric computing -- which will affect far more than just the Web.

We've let programs, applications, and even documents occupy centre-stage for far too long. This is topsy-turvy: users are primarily interested in subjects (what the information is about), not how it was created or where it lives. We need to recognize this, and effect the same kind of change in information management that object-orientation effected in programming; hence the need for a subject-centric revolution.
Indeed, the Topic Maps 2008 Conference in Oslo, Norway, April 2-4 has just concluded. So what are topic maps, and why are they relevant for libraries and information organizations? The basic idea is simple: the organizing principle of information should not be where it lives or how it was created, but what it is about. Organize information by subject and it will be easier to integrate, reuse and share – and (not least) easier for users to find. The increased awareness of the importance of metadata and ontologies, the popularity of tagging, and a growing interest in semantic interoperability are part and parcel of the new trend towards subject-centric computing.

This conference brings together these disparate threads by focusing on an open international standard that is subject-centric to its very core: ISO 13250 Topic Maps, which is interestingly what Katherine Adams had pointed out eight years ago. We're getting closer. The pieces are in place. We just need a good evening to frame together the picture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The paradigm shift cuts both ways. What makes topic maps revolutionary, and powerful, and a great step forward also makes them harder to grok. Linked data is a more immediate trend to follow for semantic libraries.

Sam Oh, a Korean researcher, gave two interesting presentations at TM08:
Topic Maps in Library Science and
MARC, FRBR and RDA: The Topic Maps Perspective.

Regarding FRBR and topic maps--Patrick LeBoeuf's visualization of a FRBRized catalog looks very much like something that would come out of a topic map.