Thinkers for the Information Society

(Formerly The SGML Centre)


As retirement starts this website is being run-down. It no longer contains any information relating to either the DIFFUSE listing of international standards that I maintained for almost a decade, or the Churchdown Plan I worked on in 2006. By the end of 2010 it may be no more, so please be prepared for its disappearance if you maintain links to it.

Who?     What?    Why?     Other Thoughts


This website preserves knowledge that was gained over more than a decade by Martin Bryan while working as a private consultant, first trading as The SGML Centre and then as IS-Thought.

The SGML Centre was set up in 1993 to promote the use of ISO 8879, the Standardized General Markup Language (SGML) that forms the basis for much of the Internet, including the HTML Hypertext Markup Language and the Extensible Markup Language (XML). A key activity of The SGML Centre for much of the next decade was the setting up and maintenance of the European Commission's database on Information Society Standardization (DIFFUSE).

As XML took over from SGML as the main format for information dissemination over the Internet a name change was deemed necessary. In 2003 the name was changed to IS-Thought to reflect the wider scope of the company IS-Thought provided guidance on the application of standards, classification schemes and ontologies for the management of data within the Information Society. By combining well-established structured document markup techniques, such as HTML, XML and SGML, with metadata and semantic definition standards, such as Dublin Core, ISO 11179 Data Element Specifications, the Web Ontology Language and Topic Maps, IS-Thought introduced companies to the advantages of active knowledge management within their information spaces. 

Between 2004 and 2008 I worked as an ontologist at CSW in Oxford on projects relating to healthcare, pharmaceutical products and the automotive industry.  My work on ontologies has mostly been documented in their Sharepoint repository.

In June 2008 I was able to finally retire and start to look at what I consider to be the real problem of the Information Society - how to get computers to identify the context in which data is recorded. Adult humans are brilliant at recognizing the context in which words are used. Computers are lousy at it. Somehow we need to be able to teach computers to recognize context in the same way as we teach it to youngsters. But first we need to understand how we teach it to youngsters. To give you some idea of the problems I am currently struggling with, consider how you would get a computer to correctly interpret what the following passage is about.

"Last Saturday, while my friend Simon was running a marathon in Zermatt I was running a bath in Churchdown while my son was upstairs running his computer games as usual. My wife, who was running late for work, was running around getting her lunch ready. Despite having a running nose she had to help running Gloucester library, where running repairs had meant that the reference library was now in a side room, well away from the stacks she needed to keep running over to to find the information required by customers. She would have to listen to a running commentary on the reasons for their enquiry, while trying to keep their varied requirements running round her skull. Often she feels she is running out of patience with them, running around in circles to answer what for them are running sores"

A computer can see that the most common word here is "running"; but which meaning should it apply. Actually the piece is an illustration of word ambiguity, but this information does not appear anywhere in it. I deliberately chose to use "run" as this word, with some 40 different uses according to the OED, is one of the most commonly deployed action verbs. Yet I am sure you had no difficulty differentiating its different uses in my example paragraph. So why is it so difficult for a computer to recognize these different uses? When I work out the answer to this and the other problems I want to study now I have time to myself I'll add some more papers to this site (flagging them with the symbol ), together with a reference to the book I am planning to write on the subject.

Martin Bryan


This website contains a series of useful resources that I developed as a consultant, including an electronic copy of my book, Web SGML and HTML 4.0 Explained.

The IS-Thought consultancy provided advice on the application of structured mark up and metadata standards, including:

Feel free to ask me questions about these standards by emailing me at martin[at], but please be prepared to wait for a response as I am not keeping up-to-date on developments as much as before, and am only looking at my email two or three times a week.


Among the papers  prepared for conferences, standards bodies, etc, as a consultant the following are available on-line:

Other Thoughts 

Some alternative sources of information on information management standards include:

Webmaster: martin[at]