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 applications.

The site is driven entirely by a topic map. What this means is that:

  • 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 colocation for 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 topic maps.

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 turn impacts 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 application.

Welcome page


Index pages


Topic pages