I believe that technologies including hardware performance, APIs and network performance has matured to a degree where some of the early concepts of moving beyond models of scrolls of paper for document interaction has become possible to implement in useful ways.
This includes Vannevar Bush’s notions of visibly linking material, Doug Engelbart’s views, glossaries and link types, JCR Licklider’s notions of human-computer symbiosis, Ted Nelson’s dreams of non-sequential writing with free user movement, Wendy Hall’s link focused architecture, Mark Bernstein’s spatial hypertext, Tim Berners-Lee editable web and more – all grist for the mill for re-conceptualising and re-inventing digital documents and interactions.
Changes of the substrate of text from scratches on bone or indentations on clay to papyrus, vellum, paper, then the codex, changed attributes of the text itself in important ways, but the result was always a freezing of the text. The change of substrate from analog to digital however, is the first time that writing does not mean freezing the text, it means potentially making the text more liquid – malleable, fluid, interactive and an even more connected and essential component of visual thinking.
The notion of a document itself needs to change along with the text it provides the substrate for, becoming more of a frame, a specific view of what Les Carr refers to as a ‘structure of resources’ and I like to think of as being a human point of view.
This reconceptualisation of documents, text and author-reader interaction is the focus of my PhD project.
I aim to further exploit the history of ideas and perspectives – both through further literature reviews and through further interactions with the pioneers themselves, in an environment inspired by the human being – our psychology, pedagogy visual abilities, and how we interact with our environment in other areas, to design, test and refine a thinking space for producing academic documents, something I call the ‘liquid view’ in my Liquid | Author word processor.
My aim, on which I propose this project and product to be tested, is not on how much novel or creative thought has gone into it, but how simplified and truly useful the result will be for a university student to carry out their thinking.
Implications will include
• Better understanding of our visual mental processing. What aspects of human cognition can be tapped into in order to better support thinking through visual means? How can layouts be optimal for a variety of users? In terms of foveal size at screen distance, should the fovea be the determining size for units/nodes?
• Looking at document formats, particularly aspects of the academic document. I will need to look into what do academic documents look like, in terms of ration of level one headings to lower headings (to design liquid view initial layout) and so on? What is the purpose of academic documents and what are the quirks of current methods?
• Interaction with Repositories (particularly Southampton ePrints)
• Citation System integrations.
• Glossaries and how writing can be re-used and how contextualisation can be dialled up and down by the reader.
• Navigation support. How do people navigate different challenging environments and how can navigation cues be used in this virtual environment. It is clear that in order to perform rich navigations the user needs rich interaction cues but can this be substantiated and what is relevant to carry across into this domain? This will be explored particularly with maritime navigation.