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Aug 19, 2004: Semantic Webs and Topic Maps

Stimulating discussion yesterday with Jerry Michalski and Ed Vielmetti, ranging from SGML to The Brain to local structure to the merging of semantic metadata to topic maps.

Whew. It's still sinking in, and probably will be for the next two or three weeks.

A question arose that I'm wondering if any Bloug readers can answer: how close are the topic map and semantic web worlds? How much overlap is there in people and practices, if any? Wondering if these people go to the same conferences, participate in the same discussion lists, and so on.

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Comment: Peter (Aug 19, 2004)

As far as I can tell, the semantic web world is largely RDF, and the topicmap people have one foot in there, and one foot in their own world. But I don't want to give the impression that semantic web is topicmaps vs. rdf, either. If I were to draw circles (which luckily I don't often do), I'd draw a big fuzzy one (the semantic web), a big but smaller once inside that (RDF) and a smaller one next to that (topicmaps). Topicmaps and RDF don't really overlap in a technology sense, but in a community sense I'd say they do overlap quite a bit.

Someone else correct me please!

Comment: Alexander (Aug 19, 2004)

Recomended reading;
- http://www.ontopia.net/topicmaps/materials/tmrdfoildaml.html
- http://www.w3.org/2002/06/09-RDF-topic-maps/
- http://www.ontopia.net/topicmaps/materials/tmrdf.html

In short; there are strong similarities and subtle differences. I personally can't stand much RDF, but that is subjective, of course. The definition "semantic web technology" in itself points to anything the W3C comes up with, but the fact that a lot of people prefer Topic Maps (because it is has a cleaner and more powerful expression) and also call it a semantic web technology speaks volumes.

For the best explanation of all these things, have a read a Thomas Passin's new book at http://www.manning.com/catalog/view.php?book=passin

Comment: Victor (Aug 20, 2004)

I think it depends on whether you capitalize the S and W or not.

Your can build semantic web stuff with topic maps. An example:
http://www.caho.columbia.edu/main/topics/

But the Semantic Web initiative from the W3C uses RDF instead.

Topic maps are a tool and semantic web is a field of thought/practice, perhaps as Visio is to IA :)

Comment: Lou (Aug 20, 2004)

Thanks folks; so it sounds like RDF and topic maps are tools that enable semantic webs. Still wondering though: do the people involved in this stuff think of themselves as semantic websters, RDF rangers, or topic map torreadors?

Comment: Alex (Aug 22, 2004)

For myself, I think of myself as a Topic Mapper, because I'm doing *more* than just SemWeb stuff. :)

Comment: Lars Marius Garshol (Aug 23, 2004)

Formally, the W3C runs something called the "Semantic Web Activity", and RDF was produced as part of that. Topic maps came out of ISO, and this is the origin of the division between the two. The W3C itself is not clear on whether topic maps are to be considered a semantic web technology, though many (in the W3C) think it should be. Still, people do tend to have mindsets that are either RDF-formatted or topic map-formatted. I can't really think of a single exception to this rule offhand.

I note that the people on the RDF side of the fence have spoken to me of an RDF/ontology split in their community. This seems to imply that Semantic Webber is probably useful as a more generic term, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone refer to themselves that way.

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