The work on topic maps began in 1991 when the Davenport Group was founded mainly by UNIX system vendors. The vendors were under customer pressure to improve consistency in their printed documentation. There was concern about the inconsistent use of terms in the documentation of systems and in published books on the same subjects.
System vendors wished to include O’Reilly’s independently created documentation on X-Windows, under license, seamlessly in their system manuals. One major problem was how to provide master indexes for independently maintained, constantly changing technical documentation aggregated into system manual sets by the vendors of such systems.
The first attempt at a solution to the problem was humorously called SOFABED (Standard Open Formal Architecture for Browsable Electronic Documents). The problem of providing living master indexes was so fascinating that, in 1993, a new group was created, the Conventions for the Application of HyTime (CApH) group, which would apply the sophisticated hypertext facilities of the ISO 10744 HyTime standard.
By 1995, the model was mature enough to be accepted by the ISO/JTC1/SC18/WG8 working group as a “new work item”—a basis for a new international standard. The topic maps
specification was ultimately published as ISO/IEC 13250:2000.
During the initial phase, the ISO/IEC 13250 model consisted of two constructs:
- relationships between topics (later to be called associations).
The notion of scope in topic maps is one of the key distinguishing features of the topic maps paradigm; scope makes it possible for topic maps to incorporate diverse world views, diverse languages and diversity in general, without loss of usefulness to specific users in specific contexts and with no danger of irreducible “infoglut.”
The scope and subject identity point aspects of the topic maps paradigm were first developed and articulated by Peter J. Newcomb and Victoria T. Newcomb during a 1997 breakfast conversation at the Whataburger restaurant in Plano, Texas.
The ISO 13250 standard was finalized in 1999 and published in January 2000. The syntax of ISO topic maps is at the same time very open and rigorously constrained, by virtue of the fact that the syntax is expressed as a set of architectural forms.
In the last years, the Topic Maps Data Model was developed and standardized by ISO in 2006, together with a XML-based serialization format, XTM 2. Later, the Compact Topic Maps Notation followed which is more suited for manual editing. Additionally, a query language and and a modeling language are currently in the progress of standardization.