As I was writing up the GWAS Central post, the question occurred to me: does their mapping of identifiers take something away from topic maps?
My answer is no and I would like to say why if you have a couple of minutes. Seriously! It isn’t going to take that long. However long it has taken me to reach this point.
Every time we talk, write or otherwise communicate about a subject, we at the same time have identified that subject. Makes sense. We want whoever we are talking, writing to or communicating with, to understand what we are talking about. Hard to do if we don’t identify what subject(s) we are talking about.
We do it all day, every day. In public, in private, in semi-public places. And we use words to do it. To identify the subjects we are talking about.
For the most part, or at least fairly often, we are understood by other people. Not always, but most of the time.
The problem comes in when we start to gather up information from different people who may (or may not) use words differently than we do. So there is a much larger chance that we don’t mean the same thing by the same words. Or we may use different words to mean the same thing.
Words, which were our reliable servants for the most part, become far less reliable.
To counter that unreliability, we can create groups of words, mappings if you like, to keep track of what words go where. But, to do that, we have to use words, again.
Start to see the problem? We always use words, to clear up our difficulties with words. And there isn’t any universal stopping place. The Cyc advocates would have us stop there and the SUMO crowd would have us stop over there and the Semantic Web folks yet somewhere else and of course the topic map mavens, yet one or more places.
For some purposes, any one or more of those mappings may be adequate. A mapping is only as good and for as long as it is useful.
History tells us that every mapping will be replaced with other mappings. We would do well us understand/document the words we are using as part of our mappings, as well as we are able.
But if words are used to map words, where do we stop? My suggestion would be to stop as we always have, wherever looks convenient. So long as the mapping suits your present purposes, what more would you ask of it?
I am quite content to have such stopping places because it means we will always have more starting places for the next round of mapping!
Ironic isn’t it? We create mappings to make sense out of words and our words lay the foundation for others to do the same.