When trying to integrate diverse vocabularies and repositories, the way to go is mapping – metadata crosswalks as they are known in the US. I’ve been looking for software that can handle mappings between taxonomies, of which there are a range on the market, but what is really exciting is the development of automated mapping tools to take much of the “heavy lifting” out of the work (for example Synaptica’s AutoMatch).
It seems to me that there is a convergence between semi-automated mapping (we’ll be needing human editorial oversight for some time) and the semantic web project. A combination of auto-mapping and RDF/OWL/SKOS should enable us to cross-navigate repositories using our own terminologies. This is the realisation of the “many perspectives, one repository” approach that should get round many problems of the subjective/objective divide. If you can’t agree on which viewpoint to adopt, why not have them all and save the arguments for the nuances of the mapping process. Within organisations this has immediate benefits, in removing a lot of politicking that surrounds information and knowledge management. However, there is also huge cultural potential when it comes to opening up public repositories and making them interoperate. The Europeana project is a good example.