Topic Maps as Information Architecture
The purpose of the OperaMap web site is to demonstrate how
Topic Maps can be used as an information architecture in web delivery
The site is driven entirely by a topic map. What this means is
- pages are not hand-coded (they are generated on-the-fly by
extracting information from the topic map);
- the site is extremely
subject-centric (each page corresponds
to a single topic and acts as a point of
everything that is known about that topic);
- most links are not hand-coded (navigation paths between pages are
based on associations between topics);
- the site is not organized hierarchically (instead, a rich
associative structure allows users to locate and discover information
from many possible directions).
The topic map used for this site is the Italian Opera Topic
Map, which is distributed free along the Omnigator (Ontopia's
free Topic Maps browser). The topic map may also be browsed in the online
version of the Omnigator.
This article contrasts these two applications in order to convey an
understanding of the potential of topic map-driven web sites.
The chief difference between the present application and the
Omnigator is that the latter is a generic topic map
browser: it can be used with any conforming topic map; OperaMap,
on the other hand, is an application specific to the Italian Opera
Topic Map and cannot be used (at least not
as is with other
The Omnigator is designed to be
omnivorous and to
make reasonable sense out of any reasonably sensible topic map!
It therefore cannot be optimised for any particular topic map ontology:
It has to essentially treat all topics equally. This makes the
Omnigator very useful as a general purpose topic map browser,
especially for prototyping and as a teaching aid, but it places certain
restrictions on the kind of user interface that can be devised: this in
user-friendliness and means that every topic map
looks pretty much the same. While this might be acceptable in a
prototype, it is clearly not desirable in a real world application.
In contrast, the OperaMap application has been built around a
known ontology – that of the Italian Opera topic map. It was
therefore possible to make assumptions that cannot be made by a generic