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Seamless Knowledge. Steve Pepper Lars Marius Garshol Now playing: The Rough Guide to African Rap – rappers, rebels and ragamuffins “The revolution is right here in front of you”. Spontaneous Knowledge Federation using TMRAP. Bilingual Introduction.

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Seamless knowledge

Seamless Knowledge

Steve Pepper Lars Marius Garshol

Now playing:

The Rough Guideto African Rap– rappers, rebels andragamuffins

“The revolution is right here in front of you”

Spontaneous Knowledge Federation using TMRAP

Bilingual introduction
Bilingual Introduction

  • My name is Steve PepperJe m’appelle Etienne Poivre

    • Convenor of ISO Topic Maps committee

    • Editor of XML Topic Maps 1.0 (XTM)

    • Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Ontopia

  • Ontopia isL’Ontopie est

    • The Oracle of Topic Maps

    • A vendor of Topic Maps software products

  • Ontopia’s Products areLes produits de l’Ontopie sont

    • The Ontopia Knowledge Suite™ (OKS)

    • The Omnigator … and the Omnirapper

  • This presentation is aboutCette présentation est au sujet de

    • Seamless Knowledge

    • The Advent of Semantic Portals in Norway

    • Published Subjects

    • Topic Rapping with TMRAP

On'topia, 1999.[f. Gr. ‘onto-’ (being) + Gr. ‘topos’ (place); see -IA.]I. An imaginary world in which knowledge is well organized.II. A company that provides tools to help you realize yourown Ontopia.

What is topic maps
What is Topic Maps?

  • Topic Maps is an ISO standard for Knowledge Integration

  • It is the only international standard for Knowledge Integration

  • But the more important question is…

What are topic maps used for
What are Topic Maps used for?

  • That’s like asking: What are relational databases used for?

  • The answer is: A whole number of things, including(but not limited to):

    • Organizing large bodies of information

    • Capturing corporate memory

    • Representing complex rules and processes

    • Supporting concept-based eLearning

    • Enabling Enterprise Knowledge Integration (EKI)

  • But in particular…

  • Any or all of the above, in combination!

  • Topic Maps lets you achieve Seamless Knowledge

Seamless knowledge1
Seamless Knowledge

  • A term coined within the Topic Maps community as a “marketing banner” – the standard under which we march (in more ways than one!)

  • Instead of focusing on the technology, it speaks to the business benefits of applying Topic Maps

  • The business problem that Topic Maps addresses is the Disconnectedness of Information and Knowledge

  • There is growing awareness of the scale of this problem:

    • Increased talk about “metadata”, “taxonomies”, “ontologies”, and “semantics”

    • The META Group talks of a “near-impending crisis”

    • What people are looking for is knowledge integration, or Seamless Knowledge

    • Topic Maps offers a standards-based solution

  • (The ROI can speak for itself … at least at this conference)

  • Seamless Knowledge is not the same as the Semantic Web

    • But there is some overlap and even more potential synergy

Semantic portals
Semantic Portals

  • One of many applications of Topic Maps

    • Topic Maps provides an ideal model for portals and other forms of web-based information delivery

  • The basic concept is to have topic maps drive the portal

    • Not just a navigational layer on top of something else

    • The very structure of the portal is a topic map

    • All content is organized around topics (“subject-based organization”)

  • Each page represents a topic (we call this a “Topic Page”)

    • Topics act as points of collocation

    • They provide a “one-stop shop” for everything that is known about a particular subject

  • Navigating the portal == Navigating the topic map

    • Associations provide very intuitive navigation (“As we may think”)

A topic page

(multiple) types

the current topic

multiple names

multiple typedoccurrences


A Topic Page

Architecture of a topic maps portal
Architecture of a Topic Maps Portal



data and documents

web server

web client


Seamless knowledge

current topic



Seamless knowledge

the current topic

multiple names


multiple occurrences

The rise and rise of semantic portals in norway
The Rise and Rise of Semantic Portals in Norway

  • In Norway, this concept has been put into practice on a scale that is now verging on the industrial…

    • There are over a dozen topic map-driven portals in production

    • More are on the way…

  • And while the rest of the world is asking questions like

    • “Metadata?” “Taxonomies?” “Ontologies?”

  • …in Norway, customers are saying “Topic Maps!”

    • RfPs regularly specify Topic Maps as a requirement

    • Headhunters are looking for Topic Maps experts

    • 120 people attended the last Topic Maps Congress (Norway: pop. 4 million)

    • Topic Maps are quickly moving from “early adopter” to “early majority”

  • How did this situation come about?

    • The presence of Ontopia was important, but not enough on its own

    • We needed a high visibility success story as well…

The itu story in brief
The ITU Story (in brief)

  • Once upon a time, not long ago (in late 2000), …

  • … the Network for IT Research and Competence in Education (ITU) was planning a new web site

  • They had rather special requirements…

    • “Relationships between objects and various groups of objects offer users multiple paths to the same content and stimulate cross-site content exploration.”

    • “Visualisation of this network is supposed to give the user a conceptual model of the network, and give a feeling of being in a ‘relational space’.”

  • The consultant leading the project was Stian Danenbarger

  • At exactly the same time, XTM 1.0 was announced:

    • “A standardized notation … used to define topics, and the relationships between topics... A topic map defines a multidimensional topic space (in which) locations are topics… relationships […] define the path from one topic to another.”

    • A light bulb went on for Stian…

    • Ontopia helped him build an Open Source web-based content management and publishing system that was entirely driven by topic maps, called ZTM (Zope Topic Maps)

  • … and ITU got the web site it was looking for:

Seamless knowledge


current topic



The success of itu started a trend
The success of ITU started a trend

  • ITU was “bleeding edge” in early 2001

    • Stian calls it a “technical base jump – without a parachute”

    • Such adventures are not for the faint-hearted

  • Since then Topic Maps Portals have become a proven and well established technology

    • …at least in Norway...

  • ITU was followed by web sites for the Norwegian Research Council, the Norwegian Consumers Association and many others…

    • Some of these are based on ZTM

    • Others are based on other Topic Maps engines

  • At present there are over a dozen, with more on the way

Some topic maps portals in norway

In production

http://www.itu.no of Education)

http://www.forskning.no Council of Norway) Association) Defence) Conservative Party) of Agriculture) of Justice) of Culture)

Under development

Skatteetaten(Tax Office)

Statsministerens kontor(Office of the Prime Minister)

Statistisk Sentralbyrå(Central Bureau of Statistics)

IFE/Halden(Nuclear Reactor Project)



Some Topic Maps Portals in Norway

Towards seamless knowledge
Towards Seamless Knowledge

  • As the number of portals multiplies, the amount of overlap increases…

  • Take these three portals as an example:

  • Council web site aimed at young adults)

  • site of the Norwegian Consumer Association)

  • portal of the Department of Agriculture)

Three topic maps portals one common subject
Three Topic Maps Portals – One Common Subject

 one “virtual portal”

with seamless navigation in all directions

Towards seamless knowledge part 1 of n
Towards Seamless Knowledge (part 1 of n)

  • Very little is required for these portals to achieve a simple but effective form of Seamless Knowledge

  • They have already achieved subject-based organization of their content

    • Without this, Seamless Knowledge is beyond reach

  • From a technical viewpoint, only two additional pieces are required to complete the puzzle:

    #1 An identity mechanism

    • To make it possible to know when their subjects are the same

      #2 An exchange protocol

    • To enable information to be requested and exchanged automatically

  • (There must also be a real desire to share information, but that’s a political matter)

Piece 1 the identity mechanism
Piece #1: The Identity Mechanism

  • Simply put:

    • How can we know that “genetically modified food” is the same as “genetically modified foodstuffs” (or “GM food”, or “genmodifisert mat”, for that matter)?

  • One thing is certain: Basing this on names won’t work

    • Synonyms, homonyms and polysemy make names a minefield

    • In any case we would like to multilingual knowledge integration

  • What is needed is nothing more or less than unique, “global” identifiers for all subjects of common interest

  • An impossible task?

  • Not if we go about it the right way…

  • In fact, the solution already exists in the form of a mechanism developed as part of the Topic Maps standard…

  • That mechanism is called Published Subjects

Published subjects
Published Subjects

  • A distributed and democratic mechanism for assigningunique, global identifiers to arbitrary subjects

  • The mechanism is based on URLs

    • e.g. Ibsen Museum in Oslo:

  • The mechanism has two special characteristics:

    • It is two-sided – it works for both computers and humans

    • It works from the bottom up – not from the top down

  • Both of these are critically important…

  • For more information:


Piece 2 the exchange protocol

Sure. My URL is:

Portal A:

Portal B: Matportalen

Piece #2: The Exchange Protocol

Hi! Do you know the subject “genetically modified food”?*

* The actual question was:Is the subject in your system?


This scenario is Level 1 of TMRAP knowledge integration.

Tmrap topic maps remote access protocol
TMRAP (Topic Maps Remote Access Protocol)

  • Abstract protocol for getting information from remote repositories

    • The protocol has an HTTP REST binding

    • A SOAP binding would be easy to do

  • Any repository can support TMRAP

    • For topic map applications support TMRAP is very easy

    • For other applications it’s less easy, but the benefit is that legacy applications can be integrated

  • The OKS currently contains a prototype implementation

    • Used to implement the Vizigator applet

    • Also used for the Omnigator Rap demo

  • For a short introduction to TMRAP:


  • Some related work:

    • RDF Net API:

    • SNAPI:

The omnigator rap demo part 1 visit
The Omnigator Rap Demo (Part 1: VISIT)

  • Two Omnigators are running on this machine

    • Different browsers (Opera and Internet Explorer)

    • Different skins (Ontopia National Colours and Vive Québec)

    • Different namespepperpoivre

    • Different TMs (Italian Opera and Various Geographical TMs)

  • They are aware of each other’s existence

  • Their support for TMRAP is turned on

Simulation of visit demo
Simulation of VISIT demo

  • View Topic Page for Japan in @pepper

  • Go to Manage page in @poivre and load Scripts and Languages

  • Reload Topic Page in @pepper

  • Links to Remote Topic Page automatically inserted

  • Click on VISIT and navigate to the Topic Page in @poivre

  • Go to Manage Page, load CIA World Factbook, go back to Japan Topic Page in @poivre, VISIT @pepper, note new Remote Topic Link…

  • etc.


Visit some considerations
VISIT: Some Considerations

  • The functionality is deceptively simple, yet potential very powerful

    • From the user’s point of view the VISIT links might have been hand-coded(there is no visible difference)

    • The cool thing is that they are generated entirely automatically

    • This is spontaneous knowledge federation in practice!!

  • Think about it a bit:

    • Having multiple Omnigators rapping together is already fairly cool

    • In fact, anyapplication built with the Ontopia Knowledge Suite can nowjoin in the fun

    • And more importantly:

    • So can any application at all – whether or not it is based on Topic Maps

    • The only prerequisites are:

      • Subject-based organization (i.e., some concept of Topic Pages)

      • Use of Published Subjects (for the purpose of subject identification)

      • Support for TMRAP (in order to send and respond to requests)

Visit more considerations
VISIT: More Considerations

  • How useful is it really?

  • Isn’t it a little simple-minded?

  • For many of our customers it is sufficient as a first step

    • The Norwegian Research Council and the Norwegian Consumers’ Association want to be able to link to each other in this way

    • The VISIT paradigm enables them to retain their own branding

    • At the same time, they offer their users an extremely valuable service

  • TMRAP is already being implemented in ZTM

    • When done, not only will the Research Council and the Consumers’ Association be able to rap together…

    • …any Omnigator user will also be able to rap with them!

  • And remember:

    • This game can be played by any service that uses some kind ofsubject-based organization and PSIs

The omnigator rap demo part 2 get
The Omnigator Rap Demo (Part 2: GET)

  • But we can go a step further with relatively little effort

  • Remember: Topic Maps are designed for merging …

  • … so we can exchange not only Topic Page URLs

  • But also fragments of content in topic map form

  • We are calling those fragments topic maplets

  • TMRAP also supports exchanging maplets

Piece 3 topic maplets xtm fragments

Oh, this and that.Here you are. Be my guest!

Portal A:

Portal B: Matportalen

Piece #3: Topic Maplets (XTM fragments)

Hi! What do you know about “genetically modified food”?*

* The actual question was:What information do have about your system?

This scenario is Level 2 of TMRAP knowledge integration.

Simulation of get demo
Simulation of GET demo

  • View Topic Page for Japan in @pepper

  • Go to Manage page in @poivre and load both Scripts and Languages and CIA World Factbook

  • Reload Topic Page in @pepper

  • Links to Remote Topic Pages automatically inserted

  • Click on GET for each one and see the set of information be augmented by the addition of names, associations and occurrences from the remote topic maps.

Get some considerations
GET: Some Considerations

  • The functionality is even more powerful…

    • The seamlessness factor is much greater

    • (In fact we have “dumbed it down” in this Omnigator implementation in order to be able to show what is going on: The GET functionality could be activated automatically)

  • It’s also somewhat more complex than meets the eye…

    • There are a number of issues related to Topic Maplets

    • The most important is deciding exactly what the fragment should contain

    • There are a number of possible approaches to deciding the maplet topology…

Maplet topologies
Maplet Topologies

  • The approach we have chosen for our initial implementation is,for a given topic identifier, to return

    • All the identifiers of corresponding topic

    • All of that topic’s names (including their scopes and variant names)

    • All its occurrences (and their scopes and types)

    • All associations in which it plays a role (and their scopes and types)

    • All players of roles in those associations (the “associated topics”)

    • All identifiers and one name (preferably in the unconstrained scope) for all scoping topics, typing topics, and “associated topics”

  • This gives us sufficient information to provide a useful view for the user and to be able to repeat the process incrementally

    • However, more work needs to be done on XTM Fragments in general

  • References:



Tmrap abstract protocol
TMRAP – Abstract Protocol

  • getTopicMainPage(topic identity)

    • Returns XML structure with links to the Topic Page(s) for the identified topic(s)

  • getTopicXTM(topic identity)

    • Returns XTM fragment (topic maplet) for the identified topic(s)

  • The topic identity is the topic’s

    • subject identifiers,

    • source locators, and

    • subject locator

Tmrap http binding
TMRAP – HTTP Binding

  • Given a base URI for a TMRAP service, you can access

    • getTopicMainPage at <baseuri>topic-page with request parameters

    • getTopicXTM at <baseuri>xtm-fragment

  • The parameters to these requests are

    • source: repeat once for each source locator

    • indicator: repeat once for each subject indicator

    • subject: for subject locator

  • To get the Topic Page for the superclass-subclass topic from Ontopia's online demo, go to


  • A SOAP binding is also planned

Tmrap future
TMRAP future

  • Once TMQL is ready we can add a request for returning TMQL results

    • TMQL will be able to produce topic maplets as the query results

    • These topic maps can then be exported as XTM and returned

    • This allows advanced and fine-grained information retrieval

    • An implementation using Ontopia’s query language tolog is planned

  • Once TMQL-Update is ready, remote updates are also possible

    • A TMQL update statement can be sent that updates the remote topic map

  • Even now simple updates are possible

    • An XTM upload feature would allow quite advanced additions to the topic map

    • With conventions and algorithms for controlling updates this can be used to update, or even build, the topic map remotely

  • For more information on TMQL:


The building blocks of seamless knowledge
The Building Blocks of Seamless Knowledge

  • Topic Maps

    • Semantically structured data that can be “viewed as topic maps”

    • (By the way, this includes RDF, Relational DBs, XML and more)

    • Already here

  • Published Subjects

    • The Semantic Superhighway

    • Globally unique identifiers for arbitrary subjects

    • Already here

  • Topic Maps Remote Access Protocol (TMRAP)

    • Protocol for requesting and delivering Topic Page URIs and Topic Maplets

    • Already here

  • Topic Maps Query Language (TMQL)

    • For more powerful and precise TMRAP requests

    • Watch this space (and use tolog in the meantime)

Seamless knowledge and the semantic web
Seamless Knowledge and the Semantic Web

  • Are they the same thing?

    • Not if you go by the vision of the Semantic Web articulated by Tim Berners-Leeand the W3C (e.g., in the famous Scientific American article)

    • In reality, that amounts to AI on the Web

    • Most business users today don’t need AI and they don’t want to be restricted to the Web

  • On the other hand, semantics are akin to knowledge … and seamlessness implies the existence of something web-like

    • So in a broader sense they do have a lot in common

    • Certainly Semantic Web data (read: RDF) will be easily reusable in the context of Seamless Knowledge

  • However, the Semantic Web won’t be here for many years

    • There is much research still to be done

  • Seamless Knowledge is achievable today

    • The problem of disconnected knowledge on a less ambitious scale

Further work on tmrap
Further work on TMRAP

  • Extending the protocol

    • More structured getTopicPage request

    • Ability to specify maplet topologies more precisely

    • Support for TMQL queries

  • Implementation in other engines

    • ZTM and TM4J are the prime candidates

    • An extension to Joseki (Jena RDF server) would also be fun

    • RDBMS-driven applications are also interesting targets

  • Evaluating “competing” technologies

    • JSR 168: Portlet specification (Java Community Process)

    • WSRP: Web Services for Remote Portlets (OASIS)

  • Evaluating complementary technologies

    • Jabber (Open Source XML chat protocols)

    • JXTA (Java peer-to-peer technology)


  • Topic Maps have crossed the chasm – at least in Norway

    • Web sites, Portals, E-learning, Knowledge Management,Enterprise Knowledge Integration, …

  • Seamless Knowledge is a more appropriate banner to march under

    • “Topic Maps” speaks only to the technology

    • CIOs are interested in business benefits and ROI

  • The TMRAP approach redefines what it means to be a “Topic Maps Application”

    • Provided information can be made to look like a topic map, any legacy technology can play

    • The key is subject-based organization of information

  • Extreme Markup is a very cool place for extremists! 

    • See you there next year!