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Smart Symbols & URLs

Smart Symbols

Symbols are powerful thinking and communication aids but we need to move way beyond the simple black lines on a light background and imbue them with as much power as possible. The letters of the alphabet have the amazing and powerful attribute that they are universal in the computer world. When more powerful complexity is added it can have fantastic benefits but these extra functions and attributes only work in specific software environments. Even something as simple as formatting such as bold can be lost when going from one software environment to another.

What are really need is to put intelligence & layers into symbols. 

Foundational Principle

What is needed is a universal, foundational method for encapsulating attributes in an interactive manner in symbols so that they can carry more meaning than what is shown on the surface, into any environment. 

So how can you encode more than bold and italic, and make it secure and persistent? How can we build smart objects which can be moved around different pieces of software? This will only have a limited use if it is only supported in one environment. 

A URL Parameter Approach

What I propose is to use the parameter part of the URL (the characters after the address, separated by the ? character) as the object of interaction itself, making the address of secondary importance. 

A benefit of this approach is that this can be encoded to be attached to any object as simply being a link, wherever what actually then happens is that the object becomes an entry point for a good amount of meta-information and importantly – when you copy the ‘object’ the ‘link’ is attached to, you get all this meta-information for free…

What kind of Meta/Attributes?

Imagine adding a person to a diagram. This person will have certain properties which can be stored as parameters. For example, nationality, age and affiliation. We could imagine encoding this something like this:



born=02/06/1968   -> where the birthdate is used to calculate age, where necessary

affiliation=student@    -> where the affiliation has a type (student) and link


String this together and you get a picture of me and the object ‘knows’ I’m a person who is from Norway and who is a PhD student. 

The Domain

So what to do with the domain part of the URL? This I’m not sure about but it could be to a rendering engine which shows the properties of the URL in a graphic way, it could be a non-resolvable URL or it could be a company which takes care of this in the same way as domains are taken care of. 

Anyway, these are initial thoughts and your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

(  .author version of this post is here:  )

Published inThoughts


  1. Need clarification – please functionally define (1) “interactive attributes”; (2) “more” in “carry more meaning…”; (3) “any environment”. I presume that Java Script does not qualify for popup boxes which can include all webpage functionality, including more script? (e.g.:, for example)

    • frode

      Hi Stan,

      “attributes in an interactive manner” means that users should be able to do something with it.
      Nothing wrong with JavaScript but it’s important that it’s transferable between apps.

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