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.

Liquid View Design – Hierarchy

I’m testing how to show the word processor hierarchy in the Liquid View and I think holding down spacebar should temporarily show this.

However, it looks messy if I show arrows:


And context is lost if I show Outline view:

Putting the hierarchy to the side was messy:

On top was even messier:

Even when blurring the background:

However, after testing in Keynote, simply going into Outline view seems to be the best option, since the user can instantly toggle back and forth, thus keeping context :-(

Hall’s ‘brining together’, Bush’s Needle & Object Oriented Programming

Wendy Hall told me last year that one thing she would consider useful would be to have a way to not have to write everything out, and instead, according to my vague memory; kind of bring things together. As I have been working on my 9 month this has struck me again and again in terms of what I have already written and in terms of what I cite/refer to. Doug Engelbart had an acute sense of ‘have I not written this before’ when trying to come up with yet another way to present his perspective. Organising a document is very much about avoiding repetitions, removing what is not of primary importance to a secondary position (or removing it altogether) and making clear what the relationships of the contents of the document is.

Vannevar Bush packed a huge amount of pound insights into his 45 paper, all of them centred around the issue of knowledge access. If we don’t deal with this within science and academia “truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential” he wrote , and added that “A record if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted” The means through which he proposed is to do this was to make a system which latched on to the brain’s real way of working, as opposed to ‘artificial’ indexing systems; through associations. “This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing.”

When you tie two things together you have knots, which what the origin of the word ‘node’ is, so he is talking about tying information into nodes explicitly and implicitly (by different associations) which is very much what the Liquid View project is about. He calls the process of tying items together making a ‘trail’, which can then be named and accessed later and joined into numerous trails. When we note that the earlier meaning of ‘trail’ is that of something  hanging down loosely and flowing behind (www.etymonline.com) (the meaning as ‘a path’ came later), then this weaves very well into the mental narrative of liquid weaving and unweaving of knowledge. I see this as being a provocation to build a system where the trails become documents and we get close to something Wendy Hall was thinking about.

Issues then become apparent, such as in my paradigm of working within a ‘Word Processor’ what can the nodes represent? Only internal headings or external documents and what about glossaries? These are then core design issues for Author and Liquid Views – how to provide a highly visual space where tying links together is flexible (can be done in many ways for many different results) and deep (connecting disparate nodes in a visually and interactively coherent manner).

Programmers make code-reuse a core aspect of their competencies, as discussed with Christopher Gutteridge, so why can other authors not also be provided with tools to reduce repetitions and make connections clearer? That’s a founding question of Liquid Author and Liquid Views.