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End of Summer 2019 Update


My PhD work on augmenting student citation workflows turned away from ‘cool’ visualisations to the infrastructures which are lacking to truly be able to build tools and not just demos. The work I did with Chris Gutteridge [note to self; how can I build a mechanism that when someone is referred to in a blog post they are notified?] on the webleau which we presented on the 50th anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s demo, alongside Ted Nelson and Tim Berners-Lee, indicates the kind of powerful interactions I want to enable but which citation data workflows do not yet support.

In a student presentation the first year I was a student I mentioned that I don’t like PDFs and I was surprised that the only comments on my presentations was from people defending PDFs. This stuck with me and I worked on many ways to add extra payload to PDFs, to give the reader the same rich document interactions the author had. This resulted in what I now call Visual-Meta, which is the focus of my PhD:




I sponsored the JAT Conference in Cambridge in May: in order to better understand the situation in the adoption of more presentation neutral document formats and to promote Liquid | Author, the word processor I have built as a test-bed for my PhD research on citation workflows What I learnt is that there is an industry which makes powerful solutions to author PDF documents and then another industry which makes powerful solutions to extract meaning from PDFs. This would a few weeks later provide the seed for my Visual-Meta proposal.

PDF Association

I joined the PDF Association in July where I posted the first official description of Visual-Meta:


I also sponsored the Electronic Literature Organization Conference in Cork in July where I presented both Liquid | Author and–for the first time–the Visual-Meta: The conference featured both academic and artistic presentations on electronic literature and I had good dialog and developed great contacts, including Dene Grigar (Outgoing President of the ELO), whom I would see again in Hof, Germany.

University of Bergen

I presented Visual-Meta to the University of Bergen in August, in my home town. I have never been there before so it was quite an experience for me. It was hosted by Scott Rettberg. The presentation was an early version of what I would go on to present at ACM Hypertext 19 later:

ACM Hypertext 19 (Visual-Meta Presented)

At the time of writing this update, I just came back from ACM Hypertext 2019 (September) in Hof where I presented work from my PhD as my first official (short) paper (available from on Visual-Meta. An introduction to Visual-Meta is at which contains links to the slideshow of the presentation and a 360 recording of the presentation and ensuing dialog at ACM Hypertext. I was fortunate enough to spend some quality time with Andy Van Dam who was very supportive of the initiative. Ismail Serageldin has been supportive via email and I’ll be presenting this at his Summit of the Book. He is the Founding Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandria and has dozens of honorary doctorates: and really understands the foundations of what I am talking about. Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet, calls the concept ‘important’. The first person I showed this to was Tom Standage, author and deputy editor of The Economist, who called it simply ‘very clever’.

The conference was a fantastic event, where I got to spend more time with Southampton colleagues (Dave, Mark, Charlie et al.) and also with new friends (and recently new friends), including Raine Revere (developer of and future collaborator), Dene Grigar, Jill Walker Rettberg, Andy Van Dam and Claus Atzenback, some of whom tweeted on the #ACMHT19 hashtag: I posted pictures at

I also got into a Twitter discussion on formatting of Visual-Meta with Jakob Voß who it turns out was also at the conference but whom I did not meet in person. He does not like my BibTeX format focus, he prefers JSON it looks like, and I am grateful for his input on the formatting since this is his domain: I asked Douglas Crockford, inventor of JSON, if JSON was the way to go, rather than modelling it on BibTeX and he replied: “Perhaps. There is nothing wrong with BibTex. JSON, to my eye, is syntactically a little cleaner. JSON, BibTex, and XML all share a common ancestor, Brian Reid’s Scribe.”

Summit Of The Book

I have been invited by Ismail Serageldin to present my work on Visual-Meta and Liquid | Author at the Summit Of The Book in Beirut in November:


I have received the survey results for my initial survey on PhD student citation use and both sent it to my advisors and posted it to and I now plan to revise this with my advisor’s advice for a larger audience and to host a focus group

Future of Text Symposium

I will be hosting The 9th Annual Future of Text Symposium at the University of Southampton on the 9th of November: in collaboration with Les Carr and as a part of a WAIS Fest.

Future of Text Book

I am curating a book on the future of text: for 1 page contributions of widely different perspectives to be published next year (publisher not yet chosen). I have attached a PDF ‘screenshot’ of the state of the book as per posting this update: 2020 Vision Book 23 sept

Liquid | Author : From Dynamic View to Magic Margins

I updated Liquid | Author early this summer with a Dynamic View after spending considerable time trying to link non-linear and linear textual interactions, as documented at and

Stephen Fry emailed this: “Gosh, well done … I think it looks amazing. I’m not sure I’ve ever had to write anything that would use such techniques – it doesn’t reflect the way I work or think, and I think would frighten and freeze me. But then I’ve always found the same with Outline software and so-called flowchart and workflow software too. But I know that this sort of dynamic linking and working is very fruitful for certain different casts of mind and those with particular kinds of presentation, project and academic work where I hope you have the success that your hard work and imagination deserve. And love to Edgar!”

This caused me to re-visit and re-think where such dynamic views would be most useful. I decided that the ability to publish a linked dynamic view to WordPress and to PDF would be worthwhile but a basic ‘Magic Margin’ could be more directly useful for an author and my contact at Apple felt it was the most impressive (commercial considerations have to be taken into account if I will every get Author to pay for its own development) so I developed the Magic Margins which is undergoing testing and which will be available at the end of this week or early next week:

Liquid | Reader

I have also developed the fast, minimalist Liquid | Reader PDF reader to support ‘copying as citation’ from PDF to Author:

I plan to prepare a focus group and new survey to review with Les on the 9th of October.

Published inAuthorDougDemo@50Dynamic ViewPhDReaderUpdatesVisual-Meta

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