[sc34wg3] The Norwegian National Body position on ISO 13250

Steve Pepper sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Sun, 13 Apr 2003 00:14:04 +0200

Without engaging directly in the various debates taking place
at the moment, I would like to state the position of the
Norwegian National Body, so that committee members are aware
of it in advance of the London meeting.

It can be summarized as follows:

   The Norwegian NB believes it is of the utmost urgency to
   move both the SAM and XTM forward as soon as possible.

Our experience in Norway is that industry demand for topic
maps is exploding. Over 70 people attended the conference
"Topic Maps Norway" last fall; this winter 60 people turned up
for a one-day seminar entitled "Topic Maps for Librarians";
and just last week, 100 people packed the room for the first
meeting of the Norwegian Topic Maps User's Group to hear about
"Topic Maps for Portals". All this in a country of just 4
million people!

Upwards of a dozen topic map projects have either gone live or
are under development in Norway (and that's just to our
knowledge). A whole slew of topic map-driven portals and web
sites have already been built for bodies such as the Norwegian
Research Council, the Norwegian Consumer Association, the
Norwegian Defence, and even the Norwegian Conservative Party!
(The latter a very cool application, by the way.) At least two
major projects that connect government institutions and local
authorities are well underway, and topic maps are starting to
appear as a requirement (alongside XML) in important RfPs.

Obviously this is very good news, but there are problems as

First of all, there is the compatibility problem.

ISO 13250 as it currently stands is woefully inadequate for
implementors. The only reason we have half a dozen or so
reasonably compatible commercial and open source topic map
engines today is because their developers were active
participants in either ISO, TopicMaps.Org, or both. Even with
these tools, we do not yet know how compatible they really
are, because we have no way of testing conformance.

A bigger problem is that new tools are appearing claiming to
support topic maps. What we see, especially in Norway, is that
the increased interest for topic maps is leading to the
development of "topic map" software by people who have not
participated in the standards process. In itself this is
obviously very welcome. The trouble is that the lack of
guidance in ISO 13250 is leading to systems that are severely

This problem is going to get worse and worse as time goes on
and we believe it could pose a serious threat to the standard.
The only solution is to finalize the SAM and XTM specs as soon
as possible, with CXTM following soon after.

Secondly, the uptake of topic maps is leading to a very real
industry demand for TMQL and TMCL.

Companies implementing portal solutions, in particular,
experience very quickly that without a constraint language
they have to put inordinate amounts of effort into building
proprietary checks and constraints into editing applications.
It is therefore not surprising that the company responsible
for implementing the portals mentioned above (not Ontopia, by
the way) has asked the Norwegian National Body to press for
faster progress on TMCL.

The same applies to TMQL. As soon as people start building
real applications of any size around topic maps, the need for
a query language becomes acute - not least in order to achieve
scalability. Implementors in Norway are demanding a standard
query language.

However, neither TMQL nor TMCL can get past the requirements
stage without an approved data model on which to build. So,
once again, progressing the SAM is a matter of real urgency.

In our opinion, progressing the SAM should not present any
problems. The specification has been remarkably stable for two
whole years. Anyone who doubts this is invited to compare N396
(the current draft) with N356, N329, N299, and N229.

The SAM is mature. There are very few issues remaining and its
relationship to the XTM, HyTM and CXTM specifications is very
clear; all these four parts fit together seamlessly. (HyTM and
CXTM may not be quite ready for CD stage yet, however. The
London meeting should show us if this is the case.) The only
possible reason for delaying the SAM would be the lack of
clarity regarding its relationship to the RM. However, this is
as much as lack of clarity regarding the role of the RM. The
SAM itself does not need the RM. It stands on its own and is
capable of supporting 2 interchange syntaxes, a canonicalization
format, TMQL and TMCL. It need not wait for the RM.

We believe that the latest version of the RM (misleadingly,
erroneously, and unofficially called the "TMM") is a significant
improvement on earlier versions, but it is still immature and
has yet to demonstrate that it actually does what it claims to
do - i.e., provide a foundation for defining "topic maps
applications". The fact that it changes beyond recognition
with each major version gives a clear indication that it still
requires more work. The Norwegian National Body is prepared to
support that work, but not at the expense of progressing the
other parts of the standard.

For these reasons, the Norwegian NB will be pressing for the
SAM and XTM to move to CD stage at the London meeting and we
will be soliciting the support of other National Bodies in

Best regards,

Steve Pepper <pepper@ontopia.net>
Chief Executive Officer, Ontopia
Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34/WG 3
Editor, XTM (XML Topic Maps)