[sc34wg3] Thoughts on the RM

Steve Pepper sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Thu, 24 Apr 2003 22:00:24 +0200

I have earlier promised to provide feedback on the latest
version of the Reference Model (N393). Here it is.

During the last couple of days I have made a serious effort to
try and understand N393 and I am sorry to report that I have

To be frank, I find most of it totally impenetrable. I am able
to understand the basic model of assertions, but that's
probably only because I have followed previous incarnations of
the RM: I don't think I would have stood a chance otherwise.
Understanding the usefulness of assertions when we already
have binary associations is another matter.

The one thing I do like is the emphasis on what to me is the
primary objective of Topic Maps: To provide a single point of
access to everything that is known about a given subject.
(However, I would much prefer to call this the "colocation
objective", the term traditionally used in knowledge
organization for this goal. Why invent an ugly term like

Everything else is a dense fog: SIDPs, OPs, and SDDs; topic
demanders, situation features, and castings; built-in and
conferred. I ask myself: What does any of this have to do with
topic maps as defined in ISO 13250? It's all new and goes far
beyond today's standard.

I gave up completely on Clause 4 after several hours of
effort, thinking: Why should I submit to this?

If only I understood what benefits the RM could bring, I might
be motivated to try and penetrate the fog, but even that
understanding eludes me. I really don't see why we should be
talking about "multiple Topic Map Applications" at all. It
makes about as much sense to me as talking about multiple
Extensible Markup Languages.

Biezunski's Principle[1] states that "there is no point in
creating a standard that nobody can understand." Well, I
certainly agree with that, especially for a technology whose
very purpose has yet to be justified.

I'm sorry. I really do believe there may be some useful
insights in there somewhere, but either I am stupid, or they
are so well hidden that a LOT more work needs to be done
before the RM can be offered to the world.

I have always had great respect for Steve Newcomb's vision and
for that reason alone I am prepared to support further work on
the RM in the hope that it might one day lead to something
useful. But I do not believe that it has anything to do with
topic maps; I do not believe the ideas are anywhere close to
mature; and I no longer believe the RM should be part of ISO


[1] See http://www.aw.com/samplechapter/0201749602.pdf

Steve Pepper, Ontopian