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Using Topic Maps to Extend Relational Databases

Article, was published by Marc de Graauw at 2003-03-05

This article is about applying Topic Maps on relational databases.

External Link: more information

Relational databases are great for storing structured data which conforms to a well-defined relational database schema. They are not so good at storing information that does not conform to such a schema. Since user requirements inevitably change, this means costly database upgrades.

To avoid too many such upgrades, in a larger database one often sees provisions which allow users to add relevant information which does not fit nicely in the database schema. The lowest-level extension is a free-text field in a record which allows users to add textual data. Another common extension is the introduction of user-defined value lists.

While such mechanisms are powerful, they are not standardized and do not easily allow the interchange of data. Topic Maps provide a very flexible and robust way to add arbitrary data to a relational databases at runtime. Moreover, Topic Maps come with a predefined exchange mechanism (the XML Topic Maps (XTM) interchange syntax) to allow data to be exported to XML.

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As a former information scientist, I am fascinated since 1999 by the capabilities for building Topic Maps-based knowledge systems having the potential to augment human mind. One can model arbitrary knowledge organization systems, deal with semantic heterogeneity, collocate all facts about one subject in one logical place, and with TMQL have semantic retrieval on federated semantic networks. Therefore I expect bright prospects for business concepts building on the exchange of such knowledge snippets via semantic knowledge services.

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Alexander Sigel
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Topic Maps Lab auf der Cebit 2011
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