Life in hypertext

My laptop needed some repair work. Limping by on a school machine during the day was made more than bearable by having the use of an iPod touch the rest of the time and access to an N810. None of these are my own. Of the three, the iPod touch is a revelation — so easy to use, the Gmail interface is (as of now) outstanding and surfing the web on it is often a joy. I don't yet know the N810 well enough to comment about it, but one thing that lets the iPod touch down is the laboriousness of entering text. I look forward to putting the N810's keyboard through its paces, but somehow I doubt it will prove as comfortable to use as the E70's thumb keyboard. The E70 is simply the best device I've ever owned for texting.

As ever when my laptop's down, I learn things. One thing I learned this time: wireless, mobile computing is getting pretty enjoyable all of a sudden. Like everyone else, I now want to try the Asus EEE. These are all devices we need to trial in school.

Meanwhile …

William Gibson (my bold):

One of the things I discovered while I was writing Pattern Recognition is that I now think that any contemporary novel today has a kind of Google novel aura around it, where somebody's going to google everything in the text. So people--and this happened to me with Pattern Recognition--would find my footprints so to speak: well, he got this from here, and this information is on this site.

(Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine — 1998, pdf: "Google is designed to provide higher quality search so as the Web continues to grow rapidly, information can be found easily. In order to accomplish this Google makes heavy use of hypertextual information consisting of link structure and link [anchor] text. Google also uses proximity and font information. … The analysis of link structure via PageRank allows Google to evaluate the quality of web pages. The use of link text as a description of what the link points to helps the search engine return relevant [and to some degree high quality] results. Finally, the use of proximity information helps increase relevance a great deal for many queries.")

II  Adam Greenfield:

… the book is an obsolete mediation between two different hypertext systems. For everything essential is found on the del.icio.us page of the researcher who writes it, and the reader who studies it assimilates it into his or her own blog.

Web 2.0: 'what the Web was supposed to be all along'

Tim Berners-Lee, interviewed by Scott Laningham for IBM developerWorks

BERNERS-LEE: … the original World Wide Web browser of course was also an editor. I never imagined that anybody would want to write in anchor brackets. We'd had WYSIWYG editors for a long time. So my function was that everybody would be able to edit in this space, or different people would have access rights to different spaces. But I really wanted it to be a collaborative authoring tool. And for some reason it didn't really take off that way. And we could discuss for ages why it didn't. You know, there were browser editors, maybe the HTML got too complicated for a browser just to be easy. 

But I've always felt frustrated that most people don't … didn't have write access. And wikis and blogs are two areas where suddenly two sort of genres of online information suddenly allow people to edit, and they're very widely picked up, and people are very excited about them. And I think that really for me reinforces the idea that people need to be creative. They want to be able to record what they think. … 

LANINGHAM: You know, with Web 2.0, a common explanation out there is Web 1.0 was about connecting computers and making information available; and Web 2 is about connecting people and facilitating new kinds of collaboration. Is that how you see Web 2.0? 

BERNERS-LEE: Totally not. 

Web 1.0 was all about connecting people. It was an interactive space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means. If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along. 

And in fact, you know, this Web 2.0, quote, it means using the standards which have been produced by all these people working on Web 1.0. It means using the document object model, it means for HTML and SCG and so on, it's using HTTP, so it's building stuff using the Web standards, plus Java script of course. So Web 2.0 for some people it means moving some of the thinking client side so making it more immediate, but the idea of the Web as interaction between people is really what the Web is. That was what it was designed to be as a collaborative space where people can interact. 

Now, I really like the idea of people building things in hypertext, the sort of a common hypertext space to explain what the common understanding is and thus capturing all the ideas which led to a given position. I think that's really important. And I think that blogs and wikis are two things which are fun, I think they've taken off partly because they do a lot of the management of the navigation for you and allow you to add content yourself. 

But I think there will be a whole lot more things like that to come, different sorts of ways in which people will be able to work together. 

The semantic wikis are very interesting. These are wikis in which people can add data and then that data can then be surfaced and sliced and diced using all kinds of different semantic Web tools, so that's why it's exciting the way people, things are going, but I think there are lots of new things in that vein that we have yet to invent.

Transcript here. Podcast here. (Found via Read/Write Web.)

There is something so generous and inspiring in this originating vision of Sir Tim's — made all the more so because it was there at the outset. Had the Web been widely understood in this way from the start, many walled gardens (I'm thinking particularly about schools) would have resisted it vigorously. But now, or (at least) for now, walls have been breached.

I spoke about the-web-as-the-read/write-web, and its implications for education, at Reboot and MicroLearning: see here.

Technorati tags:

Comment spam and "nofollow"

"re Google’s rel="nofollow"  initiative, I am pleased to see that voices critical and/or doubtful are making themselves heard. With due acknowledgment of the anti-social nature of irresponsible self-promotion by linking to your own blog in comments, I share the anxieties of other small (and not so small) bloggers and left some thoughts on Anil Dash's post yesterday, The Social Impacts of Software Choices.

Will the "cure" be worse than the disease? Ben Hammersley thinks so: 'forcing comment spammers to cast a wider net will cause them to target the long tail of people who have no idea what to do'. There's also the issue of whether or not companies are right to have imposed this initiative on their customers, about which TDavid makes good points. Various writers have raised the problem that webmasters now have an easy way to 'abuse the tag and control the PageRank of their pages' (eg, Slowplay).

I was pleased to read John Battelle yesterday, questioning the rel="nofollow" development in a fair, calm and open-minded way. I would have hoped to have had more discussion within the blogosphere before this move had been forced on so many of us. John Battelle wrote:

… what bothers me is that there may well be an ecology that evolves based on the link mojo in comments which we can't imagine, but that would be important and wonderful, and that will not develop if every comment has a tag telling search engines to ignore it. Like it or not, search engines are now processors of our collective reality, and fiddling with that requires some contemplation.

In an update to this same posting, John Battelle adds (leading off from observations about Anil Dash's post and the discussion-in-comments it attracted):

No Follow will discourage people from doing what I'll call "fully web-expressed writing" on other people's blogs - where they write in that rather post-modern way of linking as they write, which is what we all do in this bloggy world we live in. A deft web writer is like a spider pulling strands to support his or her central thesis - it's an emerging form of communication, and from what I can tell, it's going to be very important long term to our culture.

If as a commentator on someone's blog, you know that you're spending ten, twenty, or more minutes crafting a response, and that response - because it lives in someone's comments field - will be ignored by the conferrers of future societal attention (ie - search indexes) - then I can imagine many folks will simply avoid writing thoughtful responses in comments altogether. Instead, they'll post on their own site. It seems that one of the things No Follow will do - subtly or not - is discourage active and intelligent dialog on a post. That is not, to my mind, a good thing.

Ben Hammersley concluded:

… as respecting rel="nofollow" will involve loosing an enormous amount of implicit metadata, any tools that are interested in that will be forced to ignore it. Technorati will have to choose if it’s a site that measures raw interconnectivity, or some curious High School metric of look-at-that-person-but-don’t-pay-her-any-attention that the selective use of the rel="nofollow" attribute will produce. For many purposes, this would mean the results are totally debased and close to useless.

And TrackBacks? Like John Battelle, I've been led to believe that they are affected by rel="nofollow". Is this true?

Nova Spivack: The Future of the Web

A few days ago, Nova posted a very interesting analysis of where we've come from and where we're going in the world of social technology. Now, he has set out his vision of the Metaweb: 'The Metaweb is emerging from the convergence of the Web, Social Software and the Semantic Web.'


A larger image can be viewed here.

Medieval manuscripts as hypertexts

To an English teacher, there is something oddly very modern about the inter-textual world of medieval literature. There are many other points of resemblance, too, of course. I suspect we confront here something fundamental about the way the human mind works — in itself and in community. So I am delighted to discover this site and to read its opening remarks:

Medieval manuscripts resemble hypertexts, because they, like hypertextual Websites or electronic books, consist of composite works of different layers of texts, illustrations, marginal and interlinear glosses and annotations. Medieval Bibles, chronicles, works of the Law, and textbooks present examples of a high level of hypertextuality. Medieval hypertextuality can be defined as:
a. Non-linearity: multiple choices in the viewing order of blocks of text, illustrations, marginalia, and the links between the items.
b. Multi-vocality: the several relationships that are possible between the text and the illustrations, i.e., whether illustrations provide a literal equivalent of the text, or whether they provide additional information not included in the text.
c. Inter-textuality: references to other sources, mentioned explicitly in the text or implied in the text.
d. Decenteredness: the lack of one dominant unifying center and the ability of the text to offer different paths of investigation to different readers.

Blogs = PowerPoint ?

Doug Miller:

'After nearly four years at this, I've come to realize that I jumped the shark here a long time ago. I have to confess that my interest in the blogging format as a means of writing online is waning. Things have run their course here, at least in this form.

I think it's time to try something different. I've been watching the deployment of wikis and the work Anders Fagerjord is doing over at Surftrail with interest. The chronological format is too artificial and too constraining; it's a throwback to paper formats. In fact, the entire concept of blogs as journals, while perhaps a valid form, increasingly feels like a straightjacket to me.

Weblogs are evolutionary - what started as simple HTML pages of annotated links where early web surfers shared their observations concerning the new and cool sites of the nascent web have become a primary means of online personal publishing. This evolutionary heritage seems to me to be self-limiting. There is a very definite model that's emerged that defines how we blog. This model eschews many of the possibilities inherent in hypertextual writing, primarily in the name of familiarity and expediency. Worse, this model has become firmly entrenched in the architecture of commercial weblog tools, making it more and more difficult to do things differently.

Blogs have become the PowerPoint of the Web.

Which isn't to say that blogs aren't good, or that there's anything inherently wrong with the model - at least as a model of personal online publishing. There's a great deal of good to be said for this infant revolution in personal online publishing, and despite the regular muttering of my cynical side to the contrary, I suspect it is, and will, change the world.

It just isn't a good model for me anymore.'

Hypertext and thinking/writing

'Now that we are able to write hypertexts, we'll never be completely happy writing flat, linear arguments. Even our linear texts will be refracted through the filter of hypertextuality, and we'll always be sensitive to patterns and interaction. Yes, sometimes it might seem that nobody wants to read hypertext. But everybody reads hypertext all the time, and hypertext is what we all write.' Mark Bernstein (see entry for 21 November, 2001.)