Implementing Topic Maps solutions for a variety of people we see many ontologies (information models, domain models, schemas) being used. Out of this we have tried to understand how different approaches are useful for different kinds of customers.

One approach, where the customer is a focused specialist group or small company/department who ‘know their stuff’ really benefit from having a rich ontology as it says more about what they are doing. These are also the people who want to encode knowledge as something explicit and then use that knowledge as part of the information displayed to users of the system.

At the other end of the scale large organisations tend intially to benefit from a less is more approach. This is typically becuase getting ‘political’ agreement on what the business does and where the focus should be is much harder at the large scale.

It is this second example I want to pick up on here. The most basic, useful ontology that we see in use consists of just three types; Content, Concept and Person. Concepts can be connected to other concepts as ‘broader/narrower’ and also ‘as related’. Content ‘is about’ concepts, and ‘related to’ person. Person can be connected to concepts in a few ways that are often tweaked for the domain. e.g. expert in.

This ontology is not the ultimate base model for explaining everything, but more about being able to usefully cover enough about a domain to promote the things that are important in an information management system. (Things such as faceted search, concept centric, bi-directional linking, multiple names and identifiers. All the findability niceness of Topic Maps.)

This model works well because it has recognised that people and content are two fundamental pillars of the way we work with information. Making the users/ people part of the model is critical to be able to deliver targeted contextualised content. This is the kind of content and knowledge people want to see and have access to.

So now we are moving Topic Maps concepts and approaches from the enterprise to the web and in particular the web3 context how can these ontology lessons inform us about how web3 works and the impact it will have?

Well, the biggest observation is that while web1.0 provides content, web2.0 provides people and content there is an obvious gap and therefor need for the third pillar which is concepts. Having concepts on the web will enable people to group and organise the content around the subjects that are important to them.

Having concepts on the web will provide binding points around which content can be produced and grouped, it will facilitate social networking groups to be organised around concepts. Overall having concepts on the web will provide a new and vast dimension to the experience of using this content management system we call the web.