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Category: Updates

Dynamic View Update

Jacob has finished much of the functionality of the Dynamic View, in fact, since it’s been simplified and a citation view will be built separately, 500 lines of code could be commented out. As I leave Bergen from an emotional week, this is what’s left on Trello for the Dynamic View:

And this is what’s left for Author in general, of the important issues:

One of the issues which took the longest to resolve was that moving between word processing and dynamic views is a bit jarring when you can’t see a difference/a different environment. It took a lot of thinking and experimenting but having the dynamic view as a dark, monochrome mode should be different enough and this carries some implementation repercussions.

Monday I’ll be in Cambridge for the JATS event which we are a sponsor of, that is to say, Author is a sponsor of, and I hope to be able to demo some of this and tell people it’ll be in the App Store in a few days, rather than simply that we are working on it.

Some amazing people have signed up for the Future of Text Book and now it’s on to completing the lineup and then deciding on publisher. Vint is doing the intro and Ismail is doing the postscript:

  1. Adam Kampff. Neuroscientist at the Sainsbury-Wellcome Centre and founder of Voight-Kampff
  2. Amaranth Borsuk. Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell and Author of The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series ‘The Book’
  3. Andrew McLuhan. Director, The McLuhan Institute
  4. Belinda Barnet. Swinburne University, Author of ‘Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext’
  5. Bernard Vatant. Former Consultant at Mondeca and Linked Data Evangelist
  6. Bob Frankston. Developer of VisiCalc
  7. Bob Stein. The Institute for the Future of The Book and founder of Voyager
  8. Bruce Horn. Software Developer and Author of the original Macintosh Finder
  9. Cathy Marshall. Texas A&M University and Hypertext Developer
  10. Christopher Gutteridge. University of Southampton and Developer of academic repositories
  11. Claus Atzenbeck. Institute of Information Systems at Hof University and General Co-Chair of the 2019 ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media
  12. Dan Whaley. Hypothes.is Founder and Innovator in Web Annotations
  13. Dave De Roure. Professor of e-Research, Oxford e-Research Centre
  14. Dave King. Founder, Exaptive Inc.
  15. David Price. DebateGraph, Founder
  16. Denise Schmandt-Besserat. Professor emerita of Art and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and Author of ‘How Writing Came About’
  17. Douglas Crockford. JSON
  18. Elaine Treharne. Stanford University Text Technologies
  19. George Landow. Professor and Author of books on Hypertext
  20. Gyuri Lajos TrailMarks Founder
  21. Harold Thimbleby. See Change Digital Health Fellow at Swansea University and Author of ‘Press On’.
  22. Howard Oakley. Mac Developer and Technical Writer
  23. Jack Park. TopicQuests Foundation, Co-founder
  24. James Gleick. Author of  the NYT best-seller ‘The Information’
  25. James O’Sullivan. Lecturer in Digital Arts & Humanities, University College Cork and Author of ‘Towards a Digital Poetics: Electronic Literature & Literary Games’
  26. Jane Yellowlees Douglas. Author of pioneering hypertext fiction
  27. Jason Morningstar. Analog Game Designer
  28. John-Paul Davidson. Producer, Director & Author of ‘Planet Word’
  29. Jesse Grosjean. HogBaySoftware, Developer of ‘WriteRoom’
  30. Keith Houston. Author of ‘The Book’ and ‘Shady Characters’
  31. Keith Martin. London College of Communication Senior Lecturer and Author of design books
  32. Livia Polanyi. Linguist
  33. Leslie Carr. University of Southampton, Professor of Web Science
  34. Marc-Antoine Parent. Developer of IdeaLoom
  35. Mark Anderson. University of Southampton, PhD Student
  36. Mark Bernstein. Eastgate Systems, Developer of hypertext software ‘Tinderbox’ and ‘Storyspace’
  37. Naomi S. Baron. American University, Author of ‘Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World’
  38. Panda Mery. Productive irritant
  39. Paul Presley. Editor of Geographical Magazine
  40. Paul Smart. Author and Philosopher
  41. Sarah Walton. Author and Digital Consultant
  42. Shuo Yang. Interaction Designer at Google
  43. Stephen Lekson. Curator of Archaeology, Jubilado, University of Colorado Museum of Natural History
  44. Ted Nelson. Visionary, Interactive Media Pioneer and coiner of theterm ‘hypertext’
  45. Tim Donaldson. Falmouth University, Typographer and Teacher
  46. Tom Standage. The Economist Deputy Editor and Author of ‘Writing on the Wall’
  47. Dame Wendy Hall. University of Southampton

Today we buried my father and yesterday we celebrated Norway’s independence day. He is so missed.

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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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What can you do with it?

Someone I know who is a very positive person but not at all very technical asked me a while ago about my Apple Watch: “What can you do with it?” And my first thought was “well, probably not very much for you because you don’t like to learn how to do things with tools”. I didn’t say this of course, I just mentioned a few of the main features. However, this got me thinking about something fundamental:

The pencil and paper, what does it do? This is a question more about the users skill level and use case. The properties of the pencil and paper medium are not that hard to describe. The power comes from a skilled interaction.

The smart phone, what does it do? This depends very much on the users ability and interest in using the available apps so the answer would be anything from just making calls to running your full digital life.

The point is that the capability = the tool + the user.

Personally I have to try to answer the question of what does a graph view of text do for an author? It’s not a simple question since there are specific ‘affordances’ which need to be be built into the system for certain things to be possible. When making a CGI movie it is often remarked on how everything in the world has to be thought about and designed–there is no background or set they can put the actors into. Similar things with games–in Battlefield I can easily blow up a building but I can’t tie my shoelaces.

I read once (and cannot for the life of me remember where, but I suspect it was in Edge) that a lead developer of the successful Crysis game once remarked that making the AI for the players adversaries work well was a matter of making sure that everything in the game knows what it is and what its characteristics are: A piece of wood needs to know what force is required to shatter it and so on. This matters greatly since a digital environment may look like a flat screen with colours but this is only a two dimensional slice of a multidimensional space of interactions. Even a paint program does not simply add colour to the screen based on the users mouse, trackpad or digital pen–it adds the marks based on the pen and virtual paper’s characteristics.

In the graph view what is being around is text and lines but the text represents specific text, since I have already taken it as a starting point that simply letting the user take any words from their document and move them around is not as useful as having different text have semantically interactive characteristics.

The basic way to do this is to have some sort of a list of what words are ’special’ and a way for the user to visually state which other text is also special. By assigning text as a heading you are saying it has a special role–and I am referring to roles within the work of authoring a document, particularly an academic document–that of indicating a high-level view of the organisation of the document. Headings have been referred to as structural links since they do not have a semantic meaning but they do have a semantic meaning, there is a reason why one chapter or section comes before another in the flow of a linearised argument. This is the very essence of headings: Showing sections of a linear flow. To me, at this point that should be respected and therefore headings shown by themselves, collapsed into a table of contents or outline should be editable in sequence through a drag and drop function but not be in a graph view since that defeats the function of headings. This can be disputed but there it is for me for now. They can have value in as markers in other views, but not for themselves.

Other text in a list. This refers to what I am working on with what was originally called the hyperGlossary and then Liquid Glossary but which I think I will just call it a glossary though Chris might not agree. Anyway, it’s a list but a list where each item has attributes (as in Crysis) to create an environment for useful interactions. Each ‘glossary’ term can easily be linked to other terms to create an explicit connections allowing for construction: wordpress.liquid.info/using-flow-to-post-glossary-term/

And there we have it. I wrote the above sentence using the word ‘structure’ instead of the final ‘construction’ since I thought that structure seemed a bit too final so I used Liquid Flow to look up construction in wikipedia–not useful, then the etymology and then it became clear that what I wanted to do was to say this allows for construction, it is not a structure and this is the key.

The glossary as I am designing it now for Liquid Author’s dynamic view has these types:

  • Document for anything the user cites
  • Authors/people in general
  • Institutions of people
  • Concepts for anything else

This is for the use-case of a student of course, the last item ‘concepts’ is quite general but users will be able to type in anything they choose. Likely ‘document’ will be auto-assigned when the user downloads an academic document with the Liquid Browser: wordpress.liquid.info/persistent-conceptual-objects-across-multiple-systems-views-an-rfc/

There is probably room for improving this list, particularly outside of the initial use case but categorising is useful for filtering views, for doing basic citation analysis for example. Naming things is a big issue. Confucius is said to have said: “If I was the ruler, the first thing I would do would be to make sure everything is named correctly”: “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.”

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Walking in the early, dark morning of Singapore to find a toilet, this Starbucks does not have one and it’s the only 24 hour one. Lots of police cars outside Orchard Towers. I hope they are only there for the unruly. Anyway, to ION and back and with a new perspective.

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Human language does not allow for one correct label for one thing. For the case of this work though, I will remove ‘institutions’ from the basic list and have buttons for ‘Document’ and ‘Person’ and freeform for anything else, which will automatically be put under the meta-tag of ‘Concept’. This should serve literature reviews well since documents are a core unit and are addressable items and persons are out-of system but the reason for the documents. Anything else can be labeled should the user want to, from idea to building, but they willl… Stop, this does not really make sense. Let’s start again:

Buttons for Documents (they have citation information) and Person. Anything else will be text entered but recent items will stay available for clicking on, to use recollection to encourage the use of same tags. Here it is mocked up:


basic types. Hegland, 2019.


This means that we can support nice citation flows through documents, their authors and any associated concepts as well as let the user add any terms they know.

So what can you do with it? Anything you like in terms of visualisation we hope, over time. Initially though, we are focused on supporting citation views and concept views to help the student ‘map out’ their understanding of a knowledge space and communicate this understanding to other readers, particularly examiners of their thesis.

Conclusion

Headings are for linearising. Glossary terms are for enabling constructions of relationships. And this is how we will focus the development of the Liquid Views.

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