This blog post has now been updated and turned into a web page : http://www.liquid.info/why-support-author.html
Why Support The Author Project
Why support an exploration into possible futures of the written word? Because the payoff can be tremendous.
First a brief definition: By ‘text’ I here mean symbols including the alphabets and punctuation, layout and fonts, which can be interpreted as sounds (phonetic) or symbolic meanings (such as reading a word you understand the meaning of because of the context, but you may not understand how to pronounce it). I do not mean ’text’ in the larger meaning of a text by the literary theory definition of any object that can be “read”. I do look to the root of the word ’text’ as something woven, a texture – as an important touchstone as to the evolution of text and as to it’s potential futures.
Imagine going back to living and working in a pre-literate world, but keeping all the technology – all the amazing cameras and drawing tools. Imagine how hard it would be to communicate anything beyond the most visibly obvious – how you’d communicate ideas and perspectives, thoughts and insights. You’d have a great photograph and high resolution video but no way to annotate it, no way to elaborate, no way to explain. Think about how hard it would be to get work done in that situation – just picture trying to read this document without text.
It’s not so hard to appreciate the tremendous power the written word has given us when we imagine a world without it.
Interacting with text in a Book
So let’s appreciate text on paper and then consider the implications of text in an electronic medium. First of all, let’s just accept that paper will not go away, it is tremendously pleasant to read on and books will always have their ‘object’ value, the attribute of being a thing you can interact with to turn the pages with and make scribbles on – in addition to the beautiful books you’d rather not mark in any way. Books as objects are important and will stay with us.
But let’s not just think of writing on computer screens as being low resolution backlit TV style devices as they were until recently, let’s appreciate the importance of bright ‘retina’ resolution screens, as high resolution as early laser printers. Next let’s consider documents in tablets where the tables are as light as a paper notepad and the screen looks just like paper. These are beguiling visions of the future and they will again redefine what text is and what documents are.
But let’s not get too hung up on that, there is something other than the physical object to consider of course, there is rich, deep and powerful interactions the computer medium can bring to the written word:
Interacting with a Digital Medium
Have you ever played a modern computer game? If not, spend a few mins on YouTube where you can search for something like ‘Battlefield 1’ and look at the great interactions these modern games afford the player. Go on, it’s important. Please have a look. You see, computer games are pretty powerful inspirations for where we can and should go with our knowledge work.
Interacting with text in a Digital Medium : Interactive Text
I use the term ‘interactive text’ instead of ‘digital text’ in order to highlight the most important attribute a digital, computerised environments imbues into text – interactivity:
By this I include the basics such as being able to copy the text and also to cut it. Being able to create and click on a hyper-link is also interactivity. So is the ability to click on text and choose to see definitions and do searches based on the text.
Typing a keyword and having all the occurrences of that keyword highlighted in yellow is also interactive text.
Having citations stuck at the end of the document, with simply numbers in the body text referring to the sources is not interactive text, this is simply lazy transposing of a paper method into the digital medium, something which used to be called WYSIWYG “What You See Is What You Get”, when the goal was presentation on printed paper, but which Doug Engelbart called WYSIAYG “What You See Is What You Get” since the digital of the medium was not at all utilised.
This is pretty much where we are today.
The next level of the previous example would to be able to do a quick keyboard shortcut to see all instances of selected text in the document – showing the full sentences where they appear and hiding all others, is also more advanced interactive text.
Further interactions can include the ability to not just look up a definition or to do a search but to do any search and look the text up in any reference as quickly and with as little effort. Further interactions including pinching a document to collapse the body text and only see the headings, giving you an instant and very useful overview.
Even Cut and Paste can become more advanced, simply by storing all text the user Cuts and allowing it to be accessed by a simply keyboard variation such as cmd-shift-v
Being able to click on a web-citation to open that page in a Browser is more advanced and more useful. Being able to quickly search books to extract citation information is useful, as is quickly checking the citation reference for the teacher.
All of these interactions are currently possible in the current prototype of Author.
The Next Steps
Future interactions can go so much further: Imagine the example I used twice above already: Select a keyword and see all the occurrences of the document. How about a sentence like this: “Emily went to California. Next she went to Arizona”. With current systems only the first sentence would show up in the search results. However, with advanced processing, as is now very much possible, the system can analyse the document and include the second sentence as well, since it ‘understands’ that the ’she’ in the second sentence referred to ‘Emily’ in the first sentence.
Further steps will be focused on the student – teacher interactions via documents because, let’s be honest, anytime you write something your mentality should be like that of a student trying to be clear for the teacher and anytime we read something we should read with the critical eye of a teacher. This means that when you are ready to ‘publish’ your document there should be a series of analysis’ carried out, such as writing level and plagiarism check but also such things as creating an automatic summary which you can use to see if the document really conveys what you planned to convey. If there is a sentence in the summary which is not correct – click on it and it will show you all the parts of the document which contributed to it, which you can then edit.
The principle for improving citations is that citations should help the student write with more credibility and the teacher should be better equipped to see what is relevant and important and what is not. Therefore citations should should show information about the veracity of the source instantly, not just after clicking to open a link in a separate Web browser. Citations should also integrate tightly with other media source material, such as showing video from the second it was cited, right in the document, allowing the teacher to see and hear the original pronouncement and to easily wind back to better understand the context, if desired.
For further specific steps please have a look at the list on www.liquid.info
& Further Steps…
…for the future beyond that, let’s imagine it together, through building ever more powerful interactive text environments. That’s what supporting The Author Project is all about.
The Goal & Payoff
The goal of building ever more powerful interactive text environments will be to allow for and to nurture a deeper literacy. In the same way that a crafts person or athlete can become ever better at carrying out their work, so should the knowledge worker: See the text from any perspective, compare and contrast, look anything up, share and comment, discuss, review and analyse – all with the power of the augmented mind.
This will allow us to interact with our knowledge and each other in deeper ways, because the written word is a fundamental unit of knowledge and the richer we can interact with the written word, the richer we can interact with each other. Please visit http://www.deep-literacy.com for more on this if you are interested.
What Supporting The Author Project Entails
Support for Author pays for the programming and nothing else.
This automatically includes support for the other Future Text Initiatives – http://futuretext.info – The High Performance Text Manipulation Libraries, the Advanced Open Document format, High-Temporal-Resolution Addressing of Time Based Media and efforts to increase the use and power of digital citations as well as being involved with The annual Future of Text Symposium – http://thefutureoftext.org – which I started to support the wider vision of potential futures of text.
Who I am
I am currently on a full-time PhD program in Computer Science at The University of Southampton under Dame Wendy Hall and Les Carr, with the research proposal “Augmenting Intellectual Freedom of Movement through Richly Interactive Text and Citations” of which Author is a crucial part.
I also host the annual Future of Text Symposium and developed the Liquid | Flow software, which received these reviews: MacUser: Revolutionary. 5/5 Mice. Macworld UK: Liquid is highly recommended. Mashable: Liquid upgrades your entire OS X system into a seamless work machine. MEVVY: Increase productivity and improve your workflow. TUAW: One of those utilities that you can’t live without once you start using it. Softpedia: 4/5 stars. The Next Web: Lets you find amazing context to every word on the internet. Cult Of Mac: Liquid helps information flow smoothly. LifeHacker: Speeds up transferring text between apps, searching, translating, and more. BBC: So useful you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. CNN: A great tool. Wired: Information wants to be Liquid.
I was fortunate to learn from Doug Engelbart, the ‘grandfather’ of modern computer interaction and we made this documentary website together: http://www.invisiblerevolution.net
I was a teacher at London College of Communication and plan to return to teaching after my PhD degree.
My CV: http://frodehegland.com