Topic Maps 2007

<< 2007-04-28 13:27 >>

National Theatre

This year the Norwegian Topic Maps conference for the first time went international. The timing was really poor for me personally, unfortunately. We finalized the formalities of the acquisition of Ontopia by Bouvet two weeks before the conference, moved office the Friday before the conference, and then I spent most of the conference week discussing the acquisition with partners and customers. Then I had one week in the office, before leaving for three weeks of holiday in Japan. If you've been wondering why this blog has been quiet after posting #100, this is the reason.

Still, even though the conference was a bit eclipsed by other events, it was a very interesting week of Topic Maps for me. The conference itself was just one day, but it was preceded by one day of tutorials, and followed by the ISO meetings. In between, like I said, there were lots of meetings. So rather than my normal conference report, this is more a set of highlights from that week.


The highlight of this day was definitely the meeting with Hitachi Systems. Hitachi Systems are basically a quite big Japanese systems integrator, with 4000 employees. They have built an OKS-based solution they call Knowledge Concierge, which is really a kind of combined content and knowledge management system. They have had 10-15 people working on this for quite a while, and are now ready to launch. They plan to sell this throughout Japan, and are aiming for a quite high number of licenses in 2007 and 2008.

The release of Knowledge Concierge was actually a quite big event, with a press conference at Tokyo University. This attracted sufficient attention to wind up on Japanese television. Hitachi showed me a video file of the news segment, which contained people talking in Japanese, and many shots of topics flying around in Vizigator. Quite fun to watch for a Topic Maps enthusiast.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what Hitachi will do with this.


This was the tutorial day. I gave my Topic Maps ontology modelling tutorial, this time in the kitchen of the old Ontopia office. It felt a bit odd to give a tutorial in a completely empty Ontopia office, but the tutorial was fun, as it always is. This time, however, I wore the students out completely at the end, and we had to hurry through the last bit to avoid melting their brains completely. The best bit of this day (for me) was definitely the social gathering at the end.


Christer Gundersen opening the conference

The conference itself was started by Jim Mason, chairman of the ISO committee (SC34) that made Topic Maps. He spoke about three projects he's used Topic Maps for. The first was about using Topic Maps to describe the very complex network of classification rules used by the Department of Energy to decide what is secret and what is not. They also use an automated classification engine based on this to automatically censor email. This was the project that shocked Steve Newcomb (a father of Topic Maps), who was very disturbed to discover that what he had worked to create to enable sharing of information was then used by the chairman of the committee to stop the sharing of information.

Jim also spoke about his project to describe the production facility and methods for nuclear weapons (which is what the Department of Energy really does). He passed quickly over this, however, to get to what really excited him: pipe organs. He's making a personal topic map of the pipe organ at his local church. At one point he shouted that "I'm crazy enough that I'm going to shove all 1700 pipes individually into this thing!" I have to admit a lot of this passed right over my head, but it was a lot of fun to listen to.

Lars Tveit speaking

The next speaker was Lars Tveit, communications director for the city administration of Bergen, who spoke about the new Topic Maps-based citizen's portal for the city. This is quite a big project, with a budget of about 20 million NOK a year. The reason it's so big is that they want this to become the platform through which citizens interact with the city administration to get the services that they need, and they want as many services as possible to be available through this portal. This takes time, of course, because they all need to be connected to the back-office systems, but they are doing the services one by one.

There are a number of interesting things to say about this project, so I'll return to it later in a separate posting. What was the most interesting about this talk for me was to hear a high-ranking representative of a local government saying "the Topic Maps ontology is the core of the whole portal solution".

The speaker before me was Petter Thorsrud, who presented, the new main portal for the Norwegian government. This was much the same talk that he gave at the Users' Group meeting on Topic Maps and Search, so I won't repeat it here.

My own talk was about automated classification and Topic Maps. It's really a disjointed collection of experiences made over the years I've worked with this, and of course these experiences are what the new auto-classification feature of the OKS is based on. For the details, please see the slides.

For me, I think the best part was Steve Newcomb's final keynote, which was part serious philosophy, and part absolute hilarity. I've heard Steve do this kind of thing many times now, and to me it seems that he just gets better and better every time. He has my vote for closing keynote next year as well.

The main impression I took away from the conference was that Topic Maps are now really well established commercially. There were a large number of case studies, quite a few of them of large, heavy projects, and it's really clear that Topic Maps are now seeing serious use in many different sectors. Some kind of hurdle has definitely been passed.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday

ISO crowd

These three days were spent on the ISO meeting, which for the first time was held in Oslo. For me it felt really odd to go home to my own flat every evening from an ISO meeting, and to eat/drink with the Topic Mappers in my own hometown.

I'm writing this five weeks after the event, so my memory of the details is hazy. The main subjects under discussion were TMQL, TMCL, and CTM. These are very closely connected, but are now coming along nicely. Expect to see new drafts in a couple of months.

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