Keynote Topic Maps 2010: "Occurrences"


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Nearly ten years have passed since the first Topic Map driven web site was developed in Norway. A string of high profile public sector followed suit, and Norway is now largely perceived as the poster child of Topic Maps usage internationally. Is this notion deserved? Stian recounts how it all started, reminds us of the original vision and intent and the inherent properties of the model, and asks whether Norway has been side tracked for too long by the common misperception of Topic Maps as more or less an extensive menu for “associative” web site navigation.

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  • Welcome to Norway!
  • The land of fjords, …
  • trolls, …
  • oil, …
  • … and Topic Maps!  4.7 mio people ~ EUR 9-13 mio market for TM related services (2006)
  • Lots of so called Topic Map driven web sites (this list is two years old and incomplete)
  • Very strong conference attendance since 2002, peaking 2006-2008. The last two years we have been back to 2004 levels. More about that in a moment…
  • It is perhaps appropriate to ask whether Norway and Norwegians are simply different…?
  • I don’t think so. I think it was all simply a case of fortunate timing…! It all started near the peak of the ”.com” era…
  • … At a time where borders appeared to come down around the world, and October 11, 1998: Ten years after the Berlin wall came down, Merrill Lynch published full-page ads like this in major newspapers through America (this is only a partial quote, with my emphasis added). The ads are a good indication of how
  • Timing wise, the grand visions of the Topic Map community probably hit a sweet spot
  • As with any new technology, expectations (red curve) ”overshot” actual value (grey dashed line), followed by an expectation ”undershoot” that I believe we have just been through. One of Ontopia’s founders, Steve Pepper, was saying very early on that the value created by Topic Maps would be realized in three stages, each based on, and delivering dramatically higher value than, the preceding stage: Findability Reuse Interconnection Norway has focused heavily on the findability aspect of Topic Maps on the web for ten years, losing the attention of early adopters along the way.
  • Let’s begin with where it all started in Norway… These quotes are from a prestudy done by one of my previous employers, Adcore, for a Norwegian education research network called ITU. Note that the prestudy was completed before any one of us had ever heard of Topic Maps…!
  • And, sometimes, the planets align…
  • Note the middle paragraph in particular (my emphasis)…
  • As if that weren’t enough, we found a very small Topic Maps specialist company right in our neighborhood, in Oslo, Norway! Even if the somewhat unusual appearances of some of their employees turned a few heads at Adcore at the time, they seemed to know what they were talking about, and that helped us gain enough confidence…
  • So we jumped, in what has later been called a ”tehnological base jump”…!
  • Concluding statements: ” The site is an ulimited number of elements linked together in a network The strength is in the visualisation of ITU’s function as a network builder Alternative/different than others, and supporting user’s possibly exploratory behavior by having related material easily available anywhere.”
  • Example of a ”person” page Flash menu with ”floating” text and ”tooltip” interaction Texts were clickable – linked to topics in the ’’ topic map Items found in topic map neighborhood (depth two graph traversal)
  • Our focus was still squarely on findability, and interconnection appeared elusive and out of reach…
  • 23 May 2001: Won tender (against 27 competitors) 18 September 2001: Decision to og forward with Topic Maps 8 August 2001: First time I was referred to as a ”technology evangelist” 21 August 2001: First ontology meeting
  • So we had to do a full rewrite
  • We knew that our new plattform had to support concurrency, transactions, (simple) versioning, elements of configuration management, role based authorization, and workflow…
  • 1 November 2001: First interaction design 19-21 December 2001: Ontology workshops, headed by Steve Pepper 8 January 2002: First LTM Topic Map, authored by Steve
  • 6 March 2002: Formal delivery 10 April 2002: Launch Literally: ”” Owned by NRC and 12 largest universities, colleges, and research facilities in Norway Unified formal academic taxonomies, ”everyday” terminology, and editorial requirements News oriented
  • “ The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man's dedication to world peace... a representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and, through cooperation, his ability to find greatness” - Architect's Statement from Minoru Yamasaki, chief architect of the World Trade Center Photo: <> by Fox-NL
  • 2001-12-11 Won contract First ”real proof” of business value: Paid 25% extra for Topic Maps infrastructure (ZTM), which was offered as an option 2002-07-01 Launch First ”real” knowledge base
  • First massive use of scope: 4-500 local sites (scopes) sharing same structure, content, and templates – which *can* be adapted for local use – each in its own scope
  • Quote from Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations?, in "Foreign Affairs", vol. 72, no. 3, Summer 1993, pp. 22–49 Book cover from Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996 ISBN 0-684-84441-9
  • October 2002 The world's first Topic Map Conference took place in Oslo, Norway on October 18th 2002. More than 75 people gathered at Emnekart Norge 2002 to hear presentations from both experts and users about the business case for topic maps (or "emnekart", as they are called in Norwegian). The keynote was given by Steve Pepper, CEO of Ontopia and Editor of XML Topic Maps (XTM), whose theme was how topic maps help combat infoglut and how they are they are becoming the foundation for a national knowledge base in Norway. Other speakers included Ontopians Lars Marius Garshol and Kal Ahmed. In addition, Jon Solberg from the Norwegian Research Council and H. Holger Rath from Empolis presented in-depth case studies of topic maps applications for web portals and multimedia asset management, while Stian Danenbarger of Creuna showed how topic maps can underpin an exciting new approach to content management. The conference was chaired by Professor Jon Bing, the doyen of the Norwegian IT and science fiction communities. It also occasioned a double-page spread about topic maps in the newspaper ComputerWorld Norge. In terms of population size, attendance at Emnekart Norge 2002 is the equivalent of about 4,500 people at a US conference!
  • ” To put it straight: I was nearly dizzied by how much more accessible the articles were” – Jon Solberg, Norwegian Research Council, about (literally ””) ” It’s much more fun to publish than before. Topic Maps give endless possibilities” – Eli Rekstad, prev. Norwegian Consumer Council, to Computerworld ” It becomes really easy because it’s the way the brain works. One thinks associatively” – Steinar Andersen, prev., to Computerworld
  • First example of topic map sites as linked data publishers? ”A Sea of Possibilities”... Flash navigation for children, presented at Norwegian Research Council’s ”Research Days”, developed by Ravn Visual items clickable – linked to topics in the ’’ topic map Text maintained at ’’, fetched through web service Original URL:
  • Findability Reuse
  • Q4 2003: The core ZTM team moves to Bouvet
  • 10 January 2005: First heard of TMCore05 and Networked Planet
  • 20 October 2005: Syndication architecture for Udir
  • Findability Reuse
  • Subjects have fields. Fields have competence goals, and local curricula are based on national competence goals. Since the curriculum is based on a standard, other content providers can "plug their bricks" on the “pegs” offered by the curriculum
  • Findability Reuse Interconnection
  • May 2006: Formal resolution for strategy for a new site 21 main subjects - almost matches the ministry structure The next level has a variable structure - approx. 400+ subjects. Both fixed hierarchical structure and relationships - described in the topic map A subject may be owned by the portal (editor) or a department (with some variation) Subject keywords – a few thousand
  • 12 February 2007: Launch
  • 16 March 2007: Bouvet buys Ontopia
  • Los (eng.: “harbor pilot”) Spring 2007: Launch (municipality of Bergen portal first pilot) Shared classification system for information about public services - used by maybe 100 municipalities/counties today Los has a two level topical structure that can be used as a navigation structure by public web sites Stated advantages: Counties don’t have to work out a local information structure Residents can easily find out the information he / she needs without necessarily knowing much about public sector Public websites and the use of these concepts are harmonized and easily recognizable for citizens It will be easier to share data with other government agencies that use the system
  • Report No. 17 (2006 - 2007) to the Parliament: “An Information Society for All” : ” There is a need for different ICT standards. We need technical standards which make it possible for different systems to exchange data. But a stream of data is worthless if we do not know what it means. Therefore we also need conceptual (semantic) standards which ensure that everyone is interpreting data in the same way.” “– Semantic standards will be established to define the meaning of register information and data that is frequently exchanged between the public sector and its externalities”
  • Findability Reuse Interconnection
  • Quote from Steven R. Newcomb: "A Perspective on the Quest for Global Knowledge Interchange“, see <> Cover and article quote from ” XML topic maps: creating and using topic maps for the Web” by Jack Park and Sam Hunting, Addison-Weasley, 2003
  • Quoted from vision statement for the Foundation for Dialogue Among Civilisations, <> Picture from the photo gallery at <>
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