Public identifiers and topic maps

W. Eliot Kimber eliot at
Sat Sep 26 21:04:10 BST 1998

At 06:19 PM 9/25/98 -0500, Steven R. Newcomb wrote:

>What's needed is a way to reference authoritative materials as a way
>of identifying "public topics".  A "public topic" is a concept or
>subject that has a specifiable unique name in a specifiable namespace
>created and/or managed by a specifiable authority on the topic, and
>that is referenced as a public topic by anybody who wants to regard
>the authority as an authority and the topic as a public topic,
>regardless of whether the authority's namespace is online.  Really,
>it's a bibliographic reference with certain very broad constraints and
>used for a particular purpose.  I repeat my example:

I think there's two different things being talked about here:

1. Topics that are "published resources", that is, a thing that the creator
of the thing has made public in some way.  One way to do this is to
announce to the world "I have defined a topic called '+//...//EN' which
refers to the idea of blah blah blah".  Note that "the idea of blah blah
blah" is the primary form of the resource that the name "+//.../EN" is
mapped to as indicated by the message from the publisher ("which refers to").

2. Names that are known to map to topics.  

Note that the owner of the resource (the idea that was published) need not
be the owner of the name or the name space within which the name occurs.  

For example, say Steve has decided to provide the service of cataloging
public topics and provides a registration service by which publishers of
topics can request that Steve catalog their topics.  Steve has registered
the owner name "", so he owns that name space and all
names within it.  I call Steve and ask to register my topic.  I give to
Steve my authoritative description of the topic ("the idea blah blah
blah"). Steve assigns a name and creates an entry in his catalog that looks
like this:

+//IDN ABCD.1234-466 QZ2//EN := 
   "The idea blah blah blah"

Steve owns the name but I own the resource.  Nothing in the name indicates
who owns the resource, in this case. (It could, but that would be up to
Steve and his design for a cataloging scheme).

Note also that there is no meaningful, namable, thing that is an "abstract
concept" as soon as the description of that concept gets recorded in some
reasonably permanent and retrievable form.  Thus, it's not meaningful to
have a name for an "abstract topic" without having some authoritative
definition of what that topic is. Because there must always be a
description (even if it's "call Eliot and ask him what this topic is all
about") there will always be at least one resource for the name of that
topic to map to.  Of course, it is the responsibility of the owner of the
idea to declare and publicize what that resource is.  

In the example above, the right-hand side of the catalog *is* the resource,
that is, a textual description of the topic. But what if I have a Web page
that I consider to be the authoritative definition of the topic? I would
have given that to Steve instead, making his catalog:

+//IDN ABCD.1234-466 QZ2//EN := 

In this case, the name for the authoritative definition of the topic is one
I own (because I own But I could have also let someone else
serve my definition, so I don't necessarily have to own that name either.

So, ownership of the name of a topic (or any other resource) *cannot
predict* ownership of the resource.  Ownership of resources is managed by
means other than names within computer-addressible data spaces. It is
managed by contracts and property law and lawyers and burly guys named
Guido who will break your legs if you touch the definition of my topic.

Thus, while it is possible for me to own the name of a topic I own, it is
not necessary for me to own the name of a topic I own.  

Let's say that the world accepts Steve's catalog as the authoritative
source for finding published topics (just as we accept the Library of
Congress as an authoritative source for finding published books).  When I
announce to the world that I've published a topic, I can provide the name
from Steve's catalog as a way to refer to it. But that can't prevent anyone
else from assigning their own name to my topic.

I don't think its reasonable to argue that the topic *is* the name because
names, even formal public identifiers, can't practically contain enough
information to usefully communicate the idea of the topic in all (or even
most) cases.  But even then, ownership of the name still wouldn't be
predicable from the name itself because, as objects, names can be bought
and sold.  If anyone wants a URL on the site, I'll sell it to
them for a very reasonable price. Of course, if they want to have a
resource at the end of the URL, that's extra. And persistence is an
additional fee...


<Address HyTime=bibloc>
W. Eliot Kimber, Senior Consulting SGML Engineer
ISOGEN International Corp.
2200 N. Lamar St., Suite 230, Dallas, TX 75202.  214.953.0004

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