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Dec 11, 2004: Enterprise Topic Maps

Last week at Online Information, George Kondrach of Innodata Isogen gave an excellent presentation on the application of topic maps in the enterprise environment. George described a host of high value uses for topic maps, including (with some slight paraphrasing):

  • Managing information classification schemes
  • Managing disparate vocabularies for specialized purposes
  • Managing documents, contents, other knowledge forms
  • Publishing to specialized or localized audiences with specific vocabularies
  • Publishing specialized information product types (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias, product catalogs)
  • Managing library and digital assets
  • Enhanced classification, reference, and indexing capabilities (e.g. merging)
  • Enhanced information retrieval
  • Portable metadata maps to enhance pre-existing information assets (e.g., archives)

All of these sound quite exciting and promising. I'm interested in seeing topic maps used as a syntax to support controlled vocabulary management of just about any variety; the syntax is apparently flexible enough to support even the types of complex semantic relationships we encounter in thesauri. I'm interested in seeing topic maps applied to enable contextual navigation between an enterprise's silos, especially if link generation could be automated. I'm interested in seeing topic maps enhancing search, which is such a critical finding tool in the enterprise environment.

But most of all, I'm interested in seeing some actual examples of topic maps applied in the enterprise environment. Period.

George made the point that topic maps are a substantial, though worthwhile, investment. But the same could be said about a lot of things. So I'm wondering: what's the hold-up? Is it conceptual, technical, or something else? Or are there plenty of good examples out there of operational topic maps being utilized within enterprise information architectures (and if so, where the heck are they)?

Methinks this is a question for Dr. van Dijck...

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Comment: PeterV (Dec 11, 2004)

"the syntax is apparently flexible enough to support even the types of complex semantic relationships we encounter in thesauri".

It is *much, much* more flexible than that. Topicmaps people think thesauri are very simple datastructures.

That flexibility is power, and with power comes great responsibility (in other words: that power gives you a lot of rope to hang yourself with.)

The easytopicmaps wiki has unfortunately been overrun by spam (I've cleaned up some and will be moving to a new system in January), but this page has some links for examples:


I think generally, topicmaps haven't been applied using IA-specific knowledge (best bets, controlled vocabs) yet. I'm not sure though, I'd have to investigate. Lars will probably correct me here :)

Comment: Alex (Dec 13, 2004)

One of the main reasons Topic Maps ain't "everywhere" (such as RDF) is because it didn't come out of the traditional channels for KR related things.

Anyways, Lars Marius has written a paper up this thesauri alley (which you may already have read) ;

I've talked to a few people scattered about enterprise applications (such as backends for portals, service oriented hubs, and inter-operability between services and organisations) and I'm myself wrapping up an Thesauri Enterprise Service which will be launched "some time soon", so there are indeed things happening albeit a bit slow. I think the main reason people don't jump on it straight away is from not seeing the underlying simplicity, belive it or not. People think that something this good must be complex, and hence lose sight of the real deal. There is a slight paradigm shift you have to jump first, and because it isn't rooted in old ways of thinking (such as the RDBMS frameset) people don't feel they grasp it enough to at least go enterprise with it.

IMHO, of course.

Comment: Nadeem Bitar (Dec 13, 2004)

You might be interested in "Topic Map Design Patterns For Information Architecture"

Comment: Are Halland (Dec 14, 2004)

There's a number of norwegian sites and portals using topicmaps, including:

Popularized research for the general public.

The norwegian Conservative party.

Public portal for the norwegian Food adminstration authorities.

Public portal for the norwegian Tax authorities.

Comment: Lars Marius Garshol (Jan 6, 2005)

Nadeem Bitar pointed to a topic map vocabulary for representing thesauri in topic maps, so I'll skip that and move to your questions about enterprise-level use of topic maps.

Ontopia's topic map products have been used in a number of enterprise projects where there is very little we are allowed to say about the projects. I assume the same applies to other topic map vendors. Portal projectsm like those pointed to by Are, are of course not secret, which is why so many of those are known.

Briefly, some of the projects our topic map software have been used for are:

Office of Naval Intelligence - management of intelligence information (details classified)

Multi-national electronics manufacturer - product configuration management

Multi-national petrochemics company - business process modelling

Large US software vendor - enterprise application integration

And so on. There are some more non-secret projects, but these are for the most part portals or search-related. The exceptions I can think of offhand are:

University of Oslo - IT asset management (case study to be submitted to XTech 2005)

DOE Y12 plant - asset management (case study presented at Extreme Markup 2004)

Norwegian government - metadata vocabulary management (and metadata instance management; case study presented at Emnekart 2004)

Comment: Lou (Jan 6, 2005)

Lars, thanks for sharing these. I Googled the DOE project (the only one in English I'm guessing), but couldn't find a link to the case study; is it on the Web somewhere?

Also, if you get a chance, it'd be great to get your thoughts on what it takes to design and implement topic maps across enterprise silos/fiefdoms/departmental boundaries. That's the critical issue here: how do you get people on board who have different, often political goals and serve audiences with diffferent needs?

Comment: maria_tsetsou (Apr 12, 2005)

I see you know preety much about topic maps.
Could you help me find a site which can be used as a case study of TM? I mean it has to shows some xtm files having to do with an organization's actions, that users can download and work them.
Would you mind sending me such sites in my mail-box?

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