An introduction to Topic maps: Structure and relationships of information
TOPIC MAPS *
Structure and relationships of information
We are new to topic maps, we're
just finding our way
Where do our
metaphors come from?
A hierarchical system of
classification developed by Carl von
Linné (Linnaeus) for biological
Originally set forth in his
Systema Naturae , 1735.
Each term in a taxonomy has one or
more parent-child relationship often
expressed in a tree structure or
Excellent for one-to-one classification
and filing of items into a system.
Hierarchy of information and
relationship is implicit.
Items can only be filed in one
location. Therefore, whoever does the
classification decides where
Not a traditional data structuring
method. First coined by Thomas
Vander Wal (on the 24th of July
2004 to be precise). A folksonomy
is a classification system based on
collaborative user tagging.
Extensible and flexible. Allows
multiple users to define their own
relationship to things.
No way of being clear what
someone else's definition means.
Needs a critical mass of
interaction to be useful.
Show me a picture of the Paris Hilton
Hmm, not what I was looking for
OK, I meant: show me a picture of the Paris Hilton Hotel
Finally! A picture of Paris Hilton
Taxonomies and folksonomies are bad
at describing the type of 'thing'
Why? Because they cannot capture the relationships between 'things'
Originally conceived by Shiyali
Ramamrita Ranganathan in the
Facets can be thought of as
multiple axes along which
documents or information can be
Flexible, allows information to be
found through multiple routes.
Can add extra complexity and
visual noise, and still doesn't
describe the relationship between
Ranganthan's faceted classification model:
Personality – the primary subject of the document (the key facet)
Matter – the material or substance the document deals with
Energy – the processes or activities the document describes
Space – the locations described by the document
Time – the time period described by the document
The classification of a book on Norwegian rural
architecture in the 17th century might look like this:
Personality – architecture
Matter – wood
Energy – design
Space – Norway
Time – 17th century
So where do Topic maps
Time for a slightly confusing diagram
Topic maps are an ISO standard
notation, created around 2000.
They are used to richly describe
relationships between 'things'
rather then between documents or
Improve the findability of
information, since they
consistently describe the
relationships between things, as
well as the things themselves.
Not widely used or understood.
Large scale documentation is
Topic maps support natural search
e.g. "show me all articles about Paris Hilton,
the celebrity, staying at Paris Hilton, the
Unfortunately, our document-centric structure
doesn't support that query...
Google news search results:
Paris Hilton staying at the Paris Hilton
Topic maps in use
The Norwegian Government website:
Q: Why are Topic maps so popular in Norway?
A: Graham Moore's (topic map guru) wife is Norwegian
References and further reading:
Introduction to Topic Maps
– Hendrik Thomas, 2009
The TAO of Topic Maps - Finding the Way in the Age of Infoglut
– Steve Pepper, 2002
Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic Maps!: Making sense of it all
– Lars Marius Garshol, 2004
Ranganathan for IAs
– Mike Steckel, 2002