On the Primacy of Interactions

Where I preach for a minute:

The stuff of work for a knowledge worker is not information, it is interaction.

This is because information is the result of interaction – interaction is more fundamental than information and I think this is crucial to consider.

Information has its name because in order for something to be information it has to be (to play with words); in-formation, it needs to have some relation to other information and this is where the power of information comes from, as well as its complexity and, let’s be honest, the messiness.

The energy needed to organise information, to put it in-formation is greater than the energy needed to produce the information to begin with and when organised it is only organised based on finite criteria so to focus on the organisation of information should be thought of as a dynamic process where we think of the desired interactions we need to make possible.

This then has knock-on effects for how we design the user experience and how we store and share our knowledge – do we share our knowledge in frozen form or in richly interactive ways which allows for limitless connections, associations and links to be seen and re-drawn?

That is not a rhetorical question, I would greatly like to know what you think.

Proposal to wider group after weekly call 13 December 2017

Everyone, it was a good call and we continue next week.

We coalesced around a list of threads for the work/competitions: Link Improvements, Classifications, Interoperability, Dynamic Views & Far Horizons.

However, through emails after the call the ones who remained towards the end continued and we are now leaning towards using Doug’s notion of a DKR as our focus. If we agree on this then what Jack calls semantic interoperability seems to be a good aim for how we aim to glue these disparate pieces together. Here is a bit of framing for the DKR:

Doug told me he had an epiphany in 1951: Boy, the world is complex, jeez, the problems are getting more complex and urgent and have to be dealt with collectively- we have to deal with them collectively. He would go on to write the seminal Augmenting Human Intellect paper, where he put a stake in the ground. He stated that his mission, what you might call his core principles was to augment human intellect, by which he meant:

Increasing the capability of a knowledge worker to
approach an urgent, complex problem,
and gain more rapid and better comprehension
which result in speedier and better solutions

In his words, from our documentary : These ‘means’ can include many things–all of which appear to be but extensions of means developed and used in the past to help us apply our native sensory, mental, and motor capabilities– and we consider the whole system of a human and his augmentation means as a proper field of research for practical possibilities. It is a very important system to our society, and like most systems its performance can best be improved by considering the whole as a set of interacting components rather than by considering the components in isolation. So the job then became a matter of finding the factors that limit the effectiveness of the individual’s basic information-handling capabilities in meeting the various needs of society for problem solving in its most general sense; and to develop new techniques, procedures, and systems that will better match these basic capabilities to the needs’ problems, and progress of society. This is important, simply because mankind’s problem-solving capability represents possibly the most important resource possessed by a society. The other contenders for first importance are all critically dependent for their development and use upon this resource.

For this he invented a whole ecosystem which later come to refer to as a Dynamic Knowledge Repository, a ‘DKR’, which is concerned with; mental structures, concept structures, process structures and physical structures. The result of this dynamic environment was NLS/Augment where capabilities were developed within and across these structures in order to deliver on the augmentation goals.

Can we, as a group, re-define the DKR for the 21st Century in order to invite others to come and play and invent with us? I suggest we take Doug’s core principles as our main aim and inspiration from his implementations to catapult us far beyond what we can imagine with our current capabilities.

If we agree on this then what Jack calls semantic interoperability seems to be a good aim for how we aim to glue these disparate pieces together.

Shall we proceed?


Socratic Authorship


How can we provide useful computer magic when publishing a document, loosing as little of the richness of the process of producing the document as the author chooses, supporting active reading and analysis of the document by others? These are important questions and something we are looking into at the University of Southampton and with the Author project. 


The document interchange system we are designing and, hopefully, building, should support: 

• Retainment of original document attributes (such as coordinates of nodes in a space) for when opening a published document in the original application.  

• Extraction of attributes to allow other applications to represent and use specialised attributes. 

• Annotations should be possible to add through whatever means the user wants to, such as underlines, highlights or drawings. These annotations should then be attached to the meta-data of the document so that the user can choose to search only highlighted text for example.  

• High Resolution Addressing should be possible so that the author can cite specific passages of text.  

• Distributed Publishing so that if the original server link does not work, the software can present the copies of the document. 

• A new form of Glossaries could be powerful in letting the reader gather a clearer understanding of the authors intention than what the author explicitly puts in to the document.   

• Server Knowledge of the content of the document to allow for analysis of the document or documents in bulk, through making the data in the document clearly tagged and surfacing this meta to other applications or servers.  


The big aim is to produce a document reading, writing and publishing system which will let the reader have a richer interaction with the author’s work than interacting with the author him or herself would allow. That is why we are calling this Socratic Publishing.  

‘Trojan’ PDF 

This needs to be possible within legacy systems, supporting a process of publishing a document in a way which keeps the data structured for better use when someone reads the document or interacts with it as a whole document or pieces of the document. Our solution is a process of encapsulation, where the original document and an XML version is embedded inside a .pdf document so that if a reader only has a PDF reader the PDF version will be shown but if the user has the original system the original document will be presented or if the reader has software which understands the XML then that version will be shown. In the DKR world I propose that these become Doug’s Xfiles.