Topic Maps

Topic Maps

What are Topic Maps?

The very short version: Topicmaps are a bit like faceted metadata, or like thesauri, but better! Ha!

The very short example: With a thesaurus + faceted classification you could say something like: This article is related to “Trekking”, wider term “Sports”, narrow term “mountain trekking”.With a topicmap you could say: “This article is related to trekking, in the following way: it contains pictures about trekking. Trekking is related to the topic sports, in the following way: it is a type of sport. Trekking also is related to diving, in the following way: similar people may enjoy it”. So you see you can encode a lot more information in a topic map than in a classic thesaurus.

PeterVanDijck has a wiki [1] which explains more detail… and he posted this explanation onto the SIGIA-L list:

Topic maps are very cool if you like metadata.
The difference between them and your average metadata system (RDF) is that usually, you’ll just assign metadata to an item (a page, …). But with a topic map you develop the map, and that has a value of it’s own, apart from any instances it points to. So you may have a topic “commodore 64” and another topic “80’s” and you can define a relationship called “was popular in”, which has two roles. So basically, you are encoding lots of info in the topic map, even before you have pointed it to your content.
Then it gets even cooler. Say you have a CMS (content management system) and a CRM (client relationship manager). How can you find out if a certain client, who has bought a certain product (which your CRM knows about) has gotten the latest manual and that new article about the product (which the CMSknows about)?
Simple: you build a topic map on top of the CMS (useful in itself). Then you build a map on top of the CRM (useful in itself as well). Both maps have the same product codes in them. Then this really starts paying off: you now merge the two maps. Bingo!
The way to look at them I guess is: they are this really powerful metadata thing (represented in XML) that you can build upon content you have. Then, once you have the map, you can start building applications that use the map. Topic Maps are (I think) the Future. Imagine this: once you’ve built a TM, you already have lots of applications available to then start mining that data (since it’s an open standard). So you save lots of work there.

See also: