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Friday, October 17, 2003

Library of Congress Luminary Lectures talk on Topic Maps 

Michel Biezunski and Steven R. Newcomb (Coolheads Consulting) gave a fascinating talk for the @your library Luminary Lectures series Topic Maps: The Inventor's Perspective on Subject-based Access Topic Maps are designed for the automated semantic merging of information (metadata) from multiple sources, into a single coherent navigational map, while maintaining the integrity of the source material. There are two forms of merging: name based and anchor (URN/URL) based. The example shown was the merging of IRS Tax document indexes, to provide an integrated and cross referenced call center response system. There also seemed to be a lot of interest in applying these principles to a broader merging of government information for the E-Gov initiative. Other applications included: cross-disciplinary science, homeland-security and credit card identity theft (prevention). The discussion ranged from practical considerations like using document headers and client email vocabulary to identify subject topics, to deep theoretical principles of identity and structure and how they relate to meaning. One of the interesting things about topic maps is that instead of first establishing a static identity and then adding characteristics, topic maps see identity as an emergent property determined by the accumulation of topic characteristics. These topics are merged based on a system of subject identity proxies. To support this capability, a graph model of linked topics is used, where ideally; every subject has only one proxy. This graph provides a "Map of the territory" that is carefully kept distinct from the "Territory to be mapped" (data sources). Another interesting hook, was that "to control information you need more information (metadata)". For me the highlight was at the lunch afterwords where Steve talked about the problems of reification in RDF as well as a debate about whether the basis of semantic meaning is in behavior or structure and identity. Even more productive was probably the walk back with Bryan discussing how a Service Based Architecture could implement Topic Maps using logic programming. One unoriginal possibility that occurred to me later was a link between Topic Maps and the structure preserving maps in the category theory of mathematics. Something, I know very little about.

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