Extensions (a Glossary)

This section concerns that which takes the meaning of the text out of its document frame and allows the reader to access different perspectives in time, jargon and more:


As relating to the space where the text exists


Medium and Substrate. A physical or digital substrate is the medium though which the information is communicated (medium coming from ‘in-between’ which is why we have small, medium and large and its usage into ‘mass-media’ comes from the advertising world where it was important to be able to talk about where the advertising would be implemented). The fundamental differences between physical substrates, going from animal bones, cuneiform so on to paper via papyrus, changed the way the author could mark meaning (time and effort, complexity, durability, reproducibility, transportability and so on) but not as much as the mechanical re-productive means of writing and the current digital revolution changes the inherent nature of text yet again, along dimensions we are only beginning to grasp.


As relating to the different meanings of the words


Translation. David Bellos, who has joined us at The Future of Text, has  written broadly on translations (Bellos, 2012) and a major takeaway is that translations are not simply between ‘languages’ since languages are not clearly defined – even within a single family people speak slightly differently and use words in slightly different ways. Translations, ‘in other words’ are about the shifting meaning between parties of different perspectives, may they be speaking widely different phonetic languages or the same language at different times or even the same language at the same time but with different professional or the perspectives.


Glossary originally meant a collection of glosses but has evolved to mean a list of words with corresponding comments on their specific meaning a specific document or for a specific field. This can also be called ‘terms’ and ‘vocabulary’. The gradation between translations and glossaries is an interesting and worthwhile dimension to consider.


Hypertext was defined by Ted to me in an email as simply: “Non-sequential writing with free user movement.” Isn’t that beautiful?


Interaction, Information and Exformation. I posit that interaction is the most basic aspect of existence since there can be no information within a comparison or relation, which is an information interaction: What is heat but information about movement? Similarly, and more prosaically, information which is no longer interactable, such as no longer being legible or all those who could read a specific script are all dead, this information is no longer information since it can no longer inform. Following this, my long term definition of information is simply something which is useful to someone or something at some point in some way. Exformation is Tor Nørretranders term for the information explicitly not communicated because it is assumed to be shared context, it is what makes the information useful and needs to be considered in terms of how we deal with the tenuous ‘frame’ of the document.


Table of Contents (ToC) / Outline. A table of contents is an analog version of hypertext in that by the use of page numbers a reader can skim the ToC to find a section of interest and flip to the relevant page. An index in the back of the book serves a similar analog hypertext precursor role. An outline however, does the same thing but is used during the authoring stage for the author to plan the flow and thought structure of a document. It bothered me that these paper-origined means of document navigation had been implemented ‘literally’ the same way for digital documents so after a long amount of thought and frustration I designed the action of vertically pinching on a tablet or a trackpad to collapse away the body text of the document and thus leave only a ToC or an Outline, the category of which depends only on whether the user is in Read or Edit mode.


Headings/Nodes & Labels. Headings serve as organisational labels in a word processing document/book, where their distinct type style and spacing sets them apart from the body text and informs the reader what the following body text contains or is about. In the a graph entities are referred to as nodes and in Author the headings become nodes when they are viewed in the Liquid View. The term ‘node’ shares roots with ‘knot’ which is a useful history since a Liquid View derives its value very much from the connections the nodes knot. A label is a free floating note which can be applied to give further useful context about what an entity is, much like an annotation, but with a minimum of text.


Searches & References. Searches are the operation of a search ‘engine’ providing the user with a result based on input keywords which is as useful to the user as possible, while also financially viable to the search engine provider, of a open space of knowledge, whereas References are more ‘literal’ searches within an organised corpus.


Views are the way we interact with the textual information visually and changes in what Doug called ‘ViewSpecs’ can be subtle, such as increasing or decreasing line spacing to balance legibility with economic use of screen real estate or very strong, such as the toggle between a word processor view and a Liquid View.


Diachronic Versioning. Documents change over time and Diachronic means taking into the history of a text/language or document.


As relating to the word’s connections to other documents


Citations, Quotations, Referencing are all ways to draw in authority from other documents by pointing out what someone else has written.


Connections. Leonardo Da Vinci is oft quoted as having said that  everything is connected (DaVinci), which is true and also not very practically useful. In order to be connected, two or more things need to be in shared physical, virtual or mental space. The mental space one is easy; it’s simply stating that something is connected to something else. Physical is also easy, though through torturous routes it can of course be pointed out that most things are somehow connected, though not in a manner where they can easily influence each other. In the virtual manner the shared space can be thought of as a connection space, where associations can be made and links constructed, because addressing is possible.


Associations are interesting; they are inherent or external aspects of actors which bind them together – something which could be used as a filter or a search. For example all the people who belong to a specific club (external) or all the people who have green and brown eyes (internal).


Link. A link is an explicitly made or indicated connection.


Implicit & Explicit Links are Engelbartian concepts where a word is implicitly linked to it’s entry in a dictionary or a reference for example and an underlined ‘hyperlink’ as we know it on the web is explicitly linked to the addresses it has been tagged with.


Two Way Links exist outside of a document to bind two entities together in a way in which they are both ‘aware’ of each other.


Link Database allows for analysis and manipulation of links as entities.


Link Types & Link Comments are links which have meta-data attached to indicate what they link to, such as an agreeing opinion, corrective fact and so on.


Linked Data is a way of structuring data so that it can be usefully linked.


Web Link. Web links are not links, they are pointers to addresses, such as that of a document on a server.


Addresses & Addressing. A link in the sense of a connection between two entities is different from a weblink since a weblink is just an address. This highlights the need for address ‘spaces’ where entities can be addressed because, in information interaction terms, they cannot be linked if they cannot be addressed. Doug placed high value on high resolution addressing, such as addressing and therefore linking to specific parts of a document, not just a whole document as is common today.


Structural Hypertext is Mark Bernstein’s notion of the value of seeing a ‘map’ of the document where the layout has meaning.


As related to the author’s or editor’s notes on the text


Notes and Comments surprised me with their differences when I looked them up. A comment must contain an opinion but a note is just additional information, either for an author or for a reader who wishes to remember something better in a text. In general use they seem


Footnotes were developed in response to to the neatness of print and the political nature of glosses where annotations (add-notes) were  battlegrounds for different Christian sects (Zerby, 2003). In a digital document the question of where the author adds comments becomes a different issue entirely, related to interaction rather than paper layouts.


As related to the reader’s comments on the text


Annotations are added by the reader and this can be in many forms, including highlighting text, underlining, doodling and diagramming as well as text. Current digital devices tend to treat this as a separate layer above the text, with no access programatically, such as giving the user the ability to search only for highlighted text in a given corpus, something we need to change.


As related to an editor’s comments on the text


Scholia: The Asterisk and the Dagger served similar purposes to annotations, indicating which sections the editor (ad loosely defined as someone who edits/changes the document for someone else’s assumed benefit) felt the text needed clarification.




As a consequence of this Extension chapter, which I was inspired to organise by Ted’s quote at the top, I have merged the Link and Citation systems in Author, keeping interactions separate; cmd-k adds a link if there is one on the clipboard, without showing a dialogue and adds the domain from the URL in brackets after the selected text and the user can click on the link and will be presented with a citation dialog where only the link is filled in.


I feel this wraps up the myriads of ways of ways text ‘tries to break free’ into one unified system and I’m quite happy about that.

Ideal Knowledge Work/Academic Document

An ideal academic document, which is a good model for building ever deeper literacies around, allows for, and supports the following:

  1. The presentation of an insight or finding
  2. clearly supported through well reasoned evidence and logical arguments,
  3. supported by references to previous work,
  4. published and hosted in a way which others can discover through powerful support for contextual meta-information,
  5. through richly interactive media supporting deep reading.



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.

Please also refer to http://thefutureoftext.org/definition-and-purpose.html

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.

So let’s appreciate text on paper – printed books certainly aren’t going to go away any time soon.

Socrates pointed out to his aristocratic friend Phaedrus meaning (“bright”) that while writing increased our faculty to record knowledge, it diminished our ability to interact with the knowledge. This is a valid concern for text on a ‘dead‘ substrate, like papyrus or paper, but it is something an ‘interactive’ digital substrate can go some way towards rectifying – and this is hinting to the intense potential power of digital, interactive text.

So while we appreciate the power of text on paper, let’s also appreciate the implications of text in the electronic media in which we now do all our knowledge work. There are rich, deep and powerful interactions computers can bring to the written word.