A Practical Introduction To Topic Maps

Topic maps are an ISO standard for the representation and interchange of structured information models. The first version of the standard, ISO 13250:2000 was released just two years ago and has since been adopted for use on the Web by the TopicMaps.Org consortium. The XML Topic Maps (XTM) syntax created by the TopicMaps.Org consortium is now also included as a normative appendix to the Second Edition of the ISO standard (ISO 13250:2002).

The original motivation for the development of the topic map paradigm was to assist in the process or merging traditional back-of-the-book indexes. It is no surprise, therefore, that the paradigm easily accommodates the representation of finding-aids associated with books and other forms of paper documentation such as indexes, tables of contents, thesauri and so on. However, the generalised nature of the topic map paradigm has enabled its application to other problems and in its current incarnations, we find topic maps being used to represent ontologies; to provide a framework for the development of web applications; to integrate diverse electronic information sources under a single portal; as well as for improving access to published information of all sorts.

In this article I will introduce the basic concepts of topic maps and show how these concepts can be represented in XTM syntax. Due to space constraints, this article will not cover the practical applications of topic maps, but the interested reader can find case studies published on the Techquila web-site.

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