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Category: Liquid | Author

Un-Leash

When going to bed night before last I flipped through the recommended youTube channels and there was a live cast of the first time Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy had all three boosts safely return to earth. I felt I was watching real human progress, it was amazing and uplifting.

This was also the easter weekend when my son Edgar and I took a (minor) part in the Climate Extinction protest which is also uplifting and inspiring.

This easter was the easter when the roof of the Notre Dame caught fire and had near-instant billion dollar pledges for support to fix it. As a species we have an amazing capacity to do amazing things, but often we don’t. The same human ego that drives massive wealth accumulation needs massive ego reward to spend the money–being important to the future of humanity or even to today isn’t enough.

Last night I watched Elon Musk’s Tesla’s Autonomy Day with my beautiful wife resting in my arms. It was hugely impressive, uplifting and inspiring. Last night’s far as I can piece together, I dreamt of many of these elements in poetic form.

Today I want to do something. Something big and useful.

I have worked on aspects of symbol manipulation for most of my career and I have had some progress but very limited compared with the potential.

Liquid | Flow is a powerful and, judging by actual user reviews, successful text manipulation utility with just 30,000 downloads but happy users. It allows the user to interact with their textual information far more rapidly than through other means, resulting in searches and references being carried out to check on whether news is fake or not much more often than through traditional means. The main problem with Flow is that it’s hard to communicate what it is, it is very hard to sell to someone who is not already interested in more powerful text.

Liquid | Author has had only 17,000 downloads but has not been on the market very long (a bit over a year) and has only had a brief period of being featured by Apple. Reviews are very good but people are not used to paying for software anymore and that severely lowers the cost per unit I can charge. The only effective marketing tool so far is to have Apple love it and feature it on the App Store and that is not a viable strategy for growth.

I can only see one way out of this and that is build and ship something which is so self-evidently more powerful than what we have today so that traditional and social media will spread the message virally.

To do that we need to explode the grey column traditional text layout but not in a demo-app or isn’t it cool kind of way, but in a way integrated into a useful workflow. Yes, this sounds like what I have been working on forever and it is, but it’s time to take it to the next level. I’ll park Author very soon, there are a few small issues needing fixing but I am concerned that they have turned into excuses as much as anything, so the final version of Author (for this round) will be submitted to Apple on Friday.

It will then be one month of work on the Dynamic View which is important for my PhD but also the most visually clear way I can explode the grey text column in a visually-impressive and work-useful way.

And from there on develop more interactions to usefully impress. How about infinite semantic zooming in both directions? How about graphed glossaries with auto-layout? How about gestures to expand and collapse text to fit the whim of the reader? We can do this and more and we can communicate it.

What happens when we unleash text?

Let’s find out.

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Nodes notes

When re-reading about the PARC NoteCards and how they wanted it to be very general I thought how that there is no such thing as a general tool, even a knife is made in many different ways for different uses.

I also thought about all the interesting spatial hypertext type projects there have been and, of course, they are not for all users, but for the specialised user they are also not as popular as they should be. The key–and this is the key to my PhD thesis–is that they must be a view of other, core text/information, not a separate ‘thing’.

This then turned my previous post about how to include nodes/elements on its head. The view should not ask the user to include individual elements but ask what category to show, so it will be live, but also allow the user to create new elements in this view, primarily headings but also glossary terms, notes and drag in images and documents to cite.

I further thought about the KJ-Ho brainstorming and thinking method and how Author should support that so that we use Level 2 headings the Dynamic View by default and use Level 1 as Category headings. Hence the different interfaces for those two.

There could be the approach that on entering the dynamic view two side panels would appear but nothing in the middle, on the canvas. The left panel would be about layouts and the right panel about elements:

 

However…

However, making it easy to have any and all types of nodes (headings, glossary terms etc.) visible at all times would be easily messy. If the user turned on headings first and then glossary terms, where would they go?

This is why I think we need to provide quick access to views of each type with either a mixed-view. I thought of cube-flips to make the sides mean something different though I was concerned about the feeling to the user at having something jump out of the screen but this looses the tangible aspect:

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Different Dynamic Views?

It seems at this point that supporting different views for citation analysis and brainstorming would make sense but citation analysis can benefit from having more than just the citation documents on screen–headings for groupings (or notes) and glossary terms to map concepts to seem integral.

One way to add items would be to shrink the canvas and allow the user to place the new category, such as adding headings here:

This kind of interaction seems needlessly heavy though.

I have also experimented with columns but not sure how to make this free-form:

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Time to take a step back

The primary use cases for this are

  • Brain storming, primarily to create a new document which uses headings
  • Citation analysis & presentation which uses citation documents and glossary terms

Or so I thought (see below).

Brainstorming/Table of Contents

Because it’s so clearly split for this application, perhaps pinch in should provide a TOC view (as now) and make it freeform? If we can provide a TOC view with level one headings being categories when thought of as KJ-Ho, as shown below, AND a way to put free headings (just created, then that could be interesting. I just tested using this format for TOC instead of a single scroll and it works beautifully and does not feel odd at all.

 

In this view, non-attached Headings, created in the Dynamic View by double clicking, can be anywhere on the screen. The user can scroll left and right as required and maybe up and down but that could get messy. Any heading not attached would not show up in the word processing view.

The user can double click to type a level 2 heading but to make a level one/category heading we should test with maybe having a + to the right of all the categories or maybe a button to click when making a heading? Likely we’ll have a button or a graphic like this:

 

 

This leaves pinch out for non-heading items, such as Citations and Glossary Terms. The initial view here should likely be citations since the glossary terms are external entities. If there are no citations in the document the pinch our should do nothing, same as pinch in does nothing if no headings.

Citation Analysis

In this mock-up, which is expected to be used full screen mostly, we have only the timeline view showing only citations.

Or:

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Or so I thought (this is below)

Judging by the timeline mock-up above, glossary terms are not always necessary or useful when doing citations analysis. Should the glossary terms be in their own view? Maybe, but they need to be linked and linkable and visual with the citation documents they are supported by.

Perhaps glossary terms should be accessed by clicking on them in the text, perhaps via cards? This way they can be accessed in a unique way, away from the other views but still benefit from the dynamic view.

Conclusions

For these reasons I think it’s prudent to improve the pinch in for TOC to be in columns and support adding headings in that view and Citation Analysis in the timeline view and leaving glossary terms to produce a view based on clicking on them.

I have a feeling the interactions could be more self-evident, if not intuitive, with some sort of use of the cube metaphor.

Maybe use the cube for different layouts of the same data?

Maybe make entry to timeline a different one, maybe on the back of the document, and leave glossary terms for the pinch out?

Note, this led to my next post.

Yesterday

This was the morning after Edgar was a climate warrior and got a haircut. #extinctionrebellion

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Readability & PDF

A fellow student (Henry Story) sent me this PDF update of his work, which I am very interested in. I took a screenshot of it on my 15” macOS laptop in full screen mode?


This is what it looks like when renders in Author with a similar type size:


This is what it looks like when adding line breaks after every ‘.’ Not to everyone’s taste but it makes it much more readable and skiable for me personally and I think it’s important that readers have the option to read in whatever way is good for their eyes, including line spacing as well as font size of course.


Here are the next two pages of his paper, with much more information but with blocks of ‘grey’ text fully justified and links to citations in the references, meaning that I have to manually navigate back once I check a source or note a source down for my own reading later. The lack of interaction and view control is not brilliant.

 

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