Re: comment - RDFTM: Survey of Interoperability Proposals


A couple of comments from view colored rather heavily by the Topic Maps 
Reference Model (TMRM).

Bernard Vatant wrote:
> Peter
> Yes it matters a lot. Everyone having more or less followed the Topic Maps story over the
> past years is aware of the neverending and passionate debate on what Topic Maps are, could
> or should be, between tenants of the Topic Maps as data model (SAM) and tenants of a more
> generic model(was TMMM, now TMRM). Actually the latter has considerably been changed since
> the quoted reference, current version is
> It's also true that none of the above makes for a formal semantic model. But please
> consider that those who invented the paradigm, brought it to the status of an ISO
> standard, and to the point of public consideration it is now, are a handful of dedicated
> people who never had the support of neither major industries, nor academic research
> credits. Several times I have asked some people as knowledgeable as you are, Peter, to
> consider helping the TM community to try and deliver some formal model, or to come to
> figure why there is no formal model possible, whatever. But I must admit that the answers
> I had were not very helpful, more like "go and learn FOL, it's easy, all is right there in
> my book, page x to y, come back when you have learnt and made your homework". Not very
> helpful. In Mondeca we proposed at a point a mathematical model based on hypergraphs,
> which we had used to built our software meta-model and architecture. It was neither well
> received by TM folks (because it was maths, hence not readable) nor by RDF people (because
> it was graph theory, hence "only syntax, not semantics" - that's what I was said).

Work is proceeding on a formal (read mathematical) model for the TMRM 
(Robert Barta) but I don't think it will qualify as what you are
calling a "formal semantic model."

Producing "a formal semantic model" is not the goal of the
TMRM. Enabling the disclosure and use of "formal semantic models"
(note the plural) is the goal of the TMRM.

Useful integration will arise from knowing what formal semantic
model another is using and how they identify their subjects within
that model.

The Tower of Babel, Genesis 11: 1-9, was an explanation of linguistic 
diversity. Briefly, all people spoke one language and they decided to 
build a tower with its top in the heavens. The Lord intervened and 
confused their language so that they would not understand one another. 
They were scattered across the face of the earth and left off building 
the tower.

Whatever one's view of that explanation, there is little doubt that 
linguistic (and ontological) diversity is a fact. There have been 
attempts at universal languages to overcome that diversity, two of the 
more recent being Esparanto and Loglan. All such attempts, however, have 
ended in failure.

In part that failure is due to the starting condition of diversity. To 
no small degree, introducing yet another langauge simply increases the 
diversity of languages. It is also that case that any such language 
would mean that people who already have quite servicable languages and 
ontologies would have to abandon what is familiar in favor of the new 
universal language.

The diversity of computer and markup languages, which is used by a very 
small percentage of all the people who would have to adopt a universal 
language, does not bode well for any universal language commanding the 
respect of any more than a small minority of all concerned.


>>At best, there needs to be some way to determine that the interoperability proposals
>>preserve logical equivalence on the RDF side.  At worst, there is no point
>>in doing any mappings, as RDF and Topic Maps are simply incomparable.

It is not possible to make a comparison of topic maps and RDF unless a 
specific context is specified.

If the comparison is to be made in RDF or FOL terms, it will miss the 
important parts of the comparison.

For example, in order to have "semantic interoperability" there must be 
a uniform representation of some semantic. And that implies that such a 
representation has been chosen with some specific purpose in mind, which 
of necessity excludes others.

But, what of all the diverse communities that that, at least within 
themselves, enable "semantic interoperability?"

Topic maps address the need for "semantic integration," that is the 
gathering of information around subjects expressed in different 
languages, all of which may make different assumptions or use different 

"Semantic interoperability" and "semantic integration" not at odds with 
each other but rather complimentary and necessary. Without languages 
(read "semantic interoperability"), communication is not possible. 
Without a translation (read "semantic integration") that preserves the 
independence of diverse language and ontological communities, those 
communities will remain isolated from each other.

The result from "semantic integration" is a web of semantics that 
respects the semantics of each community and yet creates mappings that 
can be followed from one community to another. The Topic Maps paradigm 
posits that "semantic integration" between communities using diverse 
"semantic interoperability" languages is possible by organizing 
information around the subjects that are described in their respective 

To to put it another way, Topic Maps enable the preservation of and 
communication across diverse language and ontological communities.

Hope you are having a great day!


Patrick Durusau
Director of Research and Development
Society of Biblical Literature
Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model

Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!

Received on Thursday, 10 March 2005 01:47:42 UTC