Crowdsourcing Maps by Mikhil Masli appears in the November 2011 issue of Computer.
Mikhil describes geowikis as having three characteristics that enable crowdsourcing of maps:
- simple, WYSIWYG editing of geographic features like roads and landmarks
- versioning that works with a network of tightly coupled objects rather than independent documents, and
- spatial monitoring tools that make it easier for users to “watch” a geographic area for possibly malicious edits and to interpret map changes visually.
How would those translate into characeristics of topic maps?
- simple WYSIWYG interface
- versioning at lowest level
- subject monitoring tools to enable watching for edits
Oh, I forgot, the topic map originator would have to supply the basic content of the map. Not going to be very interesting to have an empty map for other to fill in.
That is where geographic maps have the advantage is that there is already some framework, into which any user can add their smaller bit of information.
In creating environments where we want users to add to topic maps, we need to populate those “maps” and make it easy for users to contribute.
For example, a library catalog is already populated with information and one possible goal (it may or may not be yours) would be to annotate library holdings with commentary by anonymous or non-anonymous comments/reviews by library patrons. The binding could be based on the library’s internal identifier with other subjects (such as roles) being populated transparently to the user.
Could you do that without a topic map? Possibly, depending on your access to the internals of your library catalog software. But could you then also associate all those reviews with a particular author and not a particular book they had written? Yes, gets dicey when requirements for information delivery change over time. Topic maps excel at such situations because the subjects you want need only be defined. (Well, there is a bit more to it than that but the margin is too small to write it all down.)
My point here is that topic maps can be authored and vetted by small groups of experts but that they can also, with some planning, be usefully authored by large groups of individuals. That places a greater burden on the implementer of the authoring interface but experience with that sort of thing appears to be growing.