If Silo Owners Love Their Children Too*

* Apologies to Sting for the riff on the lyrics to Russians.

Topic Maps Now by Michel Biezunski.

From the post:

This article is my assessment on where Topic Maps are standing today. There is a striking contradiction between the fact that many web sites are organized as a set of interrelated topics — Wikipedia for example — and the fact that the name “Topic Maps” is hardly ever mentioned. In this paper, I will show why this is happening and advocate that the notions of topic mapping are still useful, even if they need to be adapted to new methods and systems. Furthermore, this flexibility in itself is a guarantee that they are still going to be relevant in the long term.

I have spent many years working with topic maps. I took part in the design of the initial topic maps model, I started the process to transform the conceptual model into an international standard. We published the first edition of Topic Maps ISO/IEC 13250 in 2000, and an update and a couple of years later in XML. Several other additions to the standard were published since then, the most recent one in 2015. During the last 15 years, I have helped clients create and manage topic map applications, and I am still doing it.

An interesting read, some may quibble over the details, but my only serious disagreement comes when Michel says:


When we created the Topic maps standard, we created something that turned out to be a solution without a problem: the possibility to merge knowledge networks across organizations. Despite numerous expectations and many efforts in that direction, this didn’t prove to meet enough demands from users.

On the contrary, the inability “…to merge knowledge networks across organizations” is a very real problem. It’s one that has existed since there was more than one record that capture information about the same subject, inconsistently. That original event has been lost in the depths of time.

The inability “…to merge knowledge networks across organizations” has persisted to this day, relieved only on occasion by the use of the principles developed as part of the topic maps effort.

If “mistake” it was, the “mistake” of topic maps was failing to realize that silo owners have an investment in the maintenance of their silos. Silos distinguish them from other silo owners, make them important both intra and inter organization, make the case for their budgets, their staffs, etc.

To argue that silos create inefficiencies for an organization is to mistake efficiency as a goal of the organization. There’s no universal ordering of the goals of organizations (commercial or governmental) but preservation or expansion of scope, budget, staff, prestige, mission, all trump “efficiency” for any organization.

Unfunded “benefits for others” (including the public) falls into the same category as “efficiency.” Unfunded “benefits for others” is also a non-goal of organizations, including governmental ones.

Want to appeal to silo owners?

Appeal to silo owners on the basis of extending their silos to consume the silos of others!

Market topic maps not as leading to a Kumbaya state of openness and stupor but of aggressive assimilation of other silos.

If the CIA assimilates part of the NSA or the NSA assimilates part of the FSB , or the FSB assimilates part of the MSS, what is assimilated, on what basis and what of those are shared, isn’t decided by topic maps. Those issues are decided by the silo owners paying for the topic map.

Topic maps and subject identity are non-partisan tools that enable silo poaching. If you want to share your results, that’s your call, not mine and certainly not topic maps.

Open data, leaking silos, envious silo owners, the topic maps market is so bright I gotta wear shades.**

** Unseen topic maps may be robbing you of the advantages of your silo even as you read this post. Whose silo(s) do you covet?

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