Last updated on January 3, 2019
The Thread of Dialogue is too important to leave segmented and only part connected in our digital knowledge environment.
When dealing with digital documents the threads weave a peculiar pattern where the dialogue can take place in different media and remain unconnected, such as in email, chat systems, at the bottom of online articles or floating on top of articles as annotations. For the reader to follow the thread makes a lot of assumptions of the readers knowledge of how the dialogue unfolded.
I suggest that instead of only focusing on supporting neutral knowledge navigation through implicit and explicit links only, that we should focus on surfacing the actively threaded dialogue for a participant of such a dialogue or a new person to be able to follow the movement of the discourse through time.
How can we support the readers ability to follow threads and see them in usefully different ways?
When someone writes a book or a document they are weaving an argument based on their understanding of the world, citing prior work for credibility and context., either explicitly or implicitly, simply by using words and phrases which get their meaning from the wider world.
A knowledge product, whether a book, a document or an article of some sort, carries very little meaning in isolation. The meaning comes from the sources the product refers to and the way the author’s perspective is put together into a linear argument. To gain value from the work the reader must have some means through which to follow the threads.
There is a difference between the threads the author has purposefully woven into the text and incidental connections to the wider web of knowledge. The threads reveal the intention of the author and the longer discussion over time.
The goal is for the author and reader to have a continual relationship where the connections are highlighted and made clear to each other and others. A very basic initial implementation of this would be blogs or hypertext articles which explicitly point to which other articles and sections they refer to and a means through which to view the thread of such a dialogue in flexible ways to filter who and what to see and to further annotate this in ways for yet others to access and add their own threads to.
Too much knowledge gets lost in the marginalia and long, inaccessible articles too long to read or find citation sections in. How can we provide the best environment where connections to be primary elements?
This is worth pursuing since dialogue is perhaps the human activity most in need of attention at the moment.
There are a lot of unknowns but there are also well known issues we can tackle, such as providing for high-resolution addressing, making it possible to link to more divergent media such as digital books and developing powerful and flexible views of the the dialogue record.
Goals will include making documents as findable, viewable, readable and citable as possible in order to provide a rich a view of the thread of dialogue which they embody.
- By ‘document’ is meant an enclosed unit of information which links to other information implicitly or explicitly and is self-contained in its ability to be shared as an individual item. I think of a document as a framing of human intention and this is why it is a unit of knowledge worth investing in to make more accessible than simply a copy of the paper substrate document which had no inherent interactive or connective capabilities beyond what happened in the readers mind or by the readers pencil.
- By as ‘findable’ as possible’ is meant that the document should make clear to the world what it contains and how it’s connected as well as possible, so that external systems can, through various means, determine it’s relevance, veracity and credibility without a human reader having to do this evaluation alone.
- By ‘as ‘viewable’ as possible’ is meant giving the user rich ‘viewspec’ options with which to grasp and reconfigure their information and the dialogue which flows through it.
- By ‘as ‘readable’ as possible’ is meant augmenting the author’s ability to present their intent and to connect it with the larger environment as clearly as possible in a package where the reader can unpack to extract information and evaluate it with as little time or effort wasted as possible.
- By as ‘citable’ as possible is meant allowing a reader of the resulting document to cite clearly, with high resolution addressing and types links as well as any other useful means for their reader to determine the credibility and relevance of this document and it’s place in the thread of conversation.