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Tag: Doug Engelbart

Thank you Ed

When my former university professor and mentor Ed Leahy discussed the importance of GPS in relation to knowledge work in group chats with people discussing Doug Engelbart’s work I really didn’t understand the relevance to something physical and something purely information based.

Since Ed is someone I greatly respect but this sounded very odd, I had to have a few rounds of thinking about it. The first relevance became work on notion of a time browser and then I kind of forgot about it.

Recently though, the notion of a symbol space has become important in my work and the notion of addressing has become front and centre. This is from Doug’s notions of high-resolution addressing and linking but I think that I also owe a debt of gratitude from Ed and his insistence of the importance of addressing  :-)

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Dynamic Views [Research Proposal]

The project is to build and research

Whether accessed through a conversation between two or more people, or via pencil and paper, spoken AI, AR, VR or a futuristic Direct Brain Connection , the information we need to interact with in order to solve problems needs to have some sort of symbolic representation for us to be able to access, view, interact and share it; Without a symbolic representation we have no way to grasp the information – no way to get a handle on it – and no way to develop our perspectives.

The development of such symbolic representations must then surely be a core aspect of knowledge work to develop for.

Of the senses available to us, vision affords by far the greatest bandwidth between external symbol representations and our prefrontal cortex where we do our higher level thinking:

We perceive about 12 million bits/second
(10 million from vision, 1 million from touch, and the rest scattered among the other senses).
16 bits per second is the bandwidth of consciousness.
Symbols are the Trojan horses by which we smuggle bits into our consciousness.

Norretranders, 1999

This is why I am working on researching Dynamic Views for my PhD, with the goal of having something solid to demo on the 50th anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s Great Demo.

Text. Expanded

Text interaction is a natural candidate to consider augmenting because of it’s long and rich history. Text has been put to use on various aspects of thought augmentation for millennia – the three and a half thousand year investment our species has made in the written word has produced a powerful recording and thinking system. However, thus far, there has been extensive research on reading and writing, concept mapping and outlining, hypertext including spatial hypertext as well as layouts and typography, but the research has been on the different issues in isolation because before interactive computers enabled the development of digital symbol manipulation, these aspects were indeed isolated.

Workflow Integration

The research proposal does not aim to build a free-standing test system but to be integrated into real-world workflows and as such it is integrated into a word processing workflow:

The Project: Dynamic View

The research project is around the notion of a ‘Dynamic View’ which is an interactive concept-map-like view of a word processing document. This Dynamic View can be instantly toggled in and out of from the word processing view when the user collapses the document through a pinch gesture on a trackpad, leaving only the headings of the document visible, creating a free-form thinking space with the headings as nodes. From this grows specific research questions, including:

• What can and should visual lines represent?
• How can and should nodes be represented?
• How can text not present on the screen be interacted with, including keywords, citations and links?
• What will be the most useful options for generating visual connections and layouts?
• How can such rich documents, with so much inherent meta-data work within the Socratic Publishing mode to provide the basis for a DKR?

A description and visual mock-up introduction to the Dynamic View is available here:

To host the Dynamic View functionality I have developed (designed and project managed, not coded, I am not a programmer) a word processor for macOS which is available on the macOS App Store called Author, in reference and homage to Doug’s Augment system:

Aim & Timeline

The research will first be focused on building a flexible interaction space in Author where experiments in interactions and visual styles can be carried out, with the aim of producing a shipping version 1.0 to demonstrate on the 50th anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s great demo, if it is good enough at that point, along with a community of other project. I am passionate about having something to show on that day which will truly honour him.

The community I am working on to realise this vision includes Ted Nelson (coined the term hypertext), Ward Cunningham (inventor of wikis), Bruce Horn (coded the first Macintosh Finder), and Adam Cheyer (of Siri fame). They have invented many parts of the wheel of this great puzzle for which I am grateful and I will continue to have regular, recorded dialog with them as a part of my annual Future of Text Symposium which I co-host with Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet, who has also been a substantial backer of the Author project.


The initial interactions which I have been able to dream up (‘being a dreamer is hard work!’ Doug once said to me) will simply be project managing a software project but once the basic pieces are in operation, which is expected to be done by Easter. Once this is done, more advanced notions can be tested – notions which rely heavily on immediate interactions and not pre-thought scenarios, where the smoothness of the flow becomes paramount and we will then hopefully research and invent a new medium. This will be in a manner of how one still image after another, once they are shown fast enough, at least 24 images a second, goes from being a static image and transforms into the new media of the moving image –what can advanced non-linear text interactions become?

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DKR Criteria (after further comments)


A 21st Century Dynamic Knowledge Repository ‘DKR’, will have some differences to Doug’s 20th Century model, which was created in an era of mainframes with limited bandwidth, processing capacity and ecosystems. Note, the term ‘document’ as used here refers to any data set which can be stored or transported on its own but does not at all need to carry the baggage of the term and is expected to evolve substantially. Please further note that the DKR is not a monolithic ‘bank account’, it is not a collection of documents, it’s an active ecosystem with an emphasis on the Dynamic processes it can support. 


A dynamic knowledge repository is a living, breathing, rapidly evolving repository of all the stuff accumulating moment to moment throughout the life of a project or pursuit.  


It is an ecosystem connected to the world, not isolated from it.


We are not trying to build a product here, we are trying to collaboratively establish a series of frameworks and build some of the components ourselves for proof of concept and further learning and development. 





These are the criteria as we understand them at the end of 2017: 


Design Perspective 


• The system needs to have provisions to co-evolve with the end users so user engagement in the design process is important 

• The system needs to be explicitly designed to bootstrap itself into ever more powerful versions 

• The design direction is to imagine and build powerful tools first and then on making them as useable as possible 

• Along the same lines, the design direction will focus on high performance users while providing novice users basic interactions 




• The DKR needs to support the CoDIAK process of ‘concurrent development, integration, and application of knowledge’ 

• The focus needs to be on rich interactions, where the user should be able to achieve high performance through powerful tools, not on ease-of-use for the sake of it 

• Creating powerful views, or ViewSpecs, of the information space is a prime challenge 

• Representing, analysing, creating and modifying information connections through links, associations, bindings, dimensions, searches and more, will further be a prime interaction challenge  


Data Space 


The system will need to support multiple data spaces, including but not limited to: 


• Live Database Interaction of Knowledge Gardens 

• Collaboratively authored Documents 

• Individually authored Documents 

• A Journal system for publishing Documents which are highly interrogable with a robust versioning system 

• All current and future media types and meta data 

• And the means through which to transfer data between the different spaces, both through networks and through something like Socratic Authoring   


Underpinning This 


• All material needs to be archived in usable and accessible ways for access in the distant future 

• The DKR needs to be able to interchange data with legacy systems   

• The DKR needs to be able to interchange data with different components among a heterogenous DKR 

• The DKR will be heterogenous, meaning that anyone can build components  

• The DKR must be massively scalable and robust, in order to deal with ever growing profusion of data and links.  



Questions raised from Dialog 


To contribute to this dialog please blog your thoughts and email a link to the webmaster, or post your thoughts as a comment below: 


• Vint Cerf  


“What kind of scaling problems might we encounter? will increasing numbers of documents produce increasing amounts of references that have to be repeatedly updated? the one-way links of the WWW escape this problem at the cost of broken links and lack of backward references”.  


This was entered in the list as ‘Must be massively scalable and robust, in order to deal with ever growing profusion of data and links.’ In the Underpinning This section. 


• Jack Park


You made it *document centric* since a repository holds stuff, mostly documents. I would argue that documents are only a tiny fraction of a DKR. For example, there is a kind of operating system for DKRs about which nobody (except the TQ tribe) ever speaks. After all, there is a social system in there together with a tool system. The social system needs an OS; we believe that an appropriate OS is Presencing. 


In the document-centric context, please note that Ward Cunningham’s FedWiki comes damned close to covering most of your key points. 


Also, too (channelling a recent female VP candidate), Yuzuru Tanaka’s Meme Media — WebbleWorlds — was invented when the OpenDoc initiative collapsed. You want documents, go talk to Yuzuru. He wrote a book about that whole space; well worth studying.  At the same time, he conducted a major conference on Knowledge Federation on the Web, long before Dino and I did the same thing. In fact, he attended every one of our Dubrovnik conferences. 


Final point: I salute any effort to come to grips with what DKRdom means. I would submit that it is borderline a fool’s errand to become so explicit in what, precisely, a DKR *is*. It will be whatever people make it to be. Pretty much, full stop.  But, that’s not the end of the story. You heard this before: 


Since there are now and in the future will be more DKRs out there, the Engelbart vision is best served not by engaging in pissing contests about *WTF is a DKR?* but, instead, how the hell to federate them.  In that context, I worship another hero: 


Oliver Selfridge, who, in 1958 — about the same time as some people got together at Dartmouth and invented the discipline of Artificial Intelligence — published a paper about his program Pandemonium. Pandemonium is a program with lots of agents. Some of them are pattern detectors. Like neurons, they shout according to the degree to which they detect a pattern.  Others are listeners; they evolve to turn the signals of groups of pattern detectors into other signals which are monitored by decision makers.  Think about it: that’s a DKR.” 


• Mark Szpakowski 


“I’ve installed Author (I’m a Mac owner, box of tissue by the side) & watched a couple of the videos. Gardening, documents, and document authoring certainly relate. You want to be able to harvest the garden at times, into forms such as text documents or more fully multimedia forms. Right now Author can bring in “citations” from sources such as Wikipedia or Amazon or anywhere: in this case the world-wide web is a kind of patchwork of jungle and cultivated areas. If there were a TopicQuests-style garden (a k-hub) then it could be a source from which Author could retrieve citations. Author-ed documents could then also get published/planted back into that garden. That could be mutually useful. 


Another growth direction might be along the lines of a “perspective editor” (in context of quests hosted on k-hubs which result in perspective documents (more static) or perspective viewers (more dynamic)), which could have two panes, one being the document editor, and the other being a view into an information source (like a garden) where the pieces to be documented appear in various forms (for example, you might have selected subsets of an IBIS conversation tree). The pieces from which the document is written are assembled “in the garden” (which also enables persistence and further personal or group re-use as permissioned), and then the document is written by one or more people. If the latter, then another adjacent growth direction is multi-user authoring. 


Regarding platforms, to further success these days the platform is the multi-device world. For example, for short-form writing and notes I use Bear, which works and syncs transparently across my MacBook, iPad and iPhone. Looking forward, I think DKR control rooms will be guild/agent-assembled mosaics making use of all available devices. But for now, as stepping stones and to demonstrate forward steps, limited platforms (Author is Mac-only) seem acceptable. If the functionality is seen as valuable, there will be pressure to implement it on the desired platforms. 


So, tl;dr: let Author read from and write to knowledge gardens. 

Is this Author-Garden federation?” 


• James Prescott 


“My name is James Prescott, and I was added to this email chain by Jack. We work together on TopicQuests. I have been hesitant to jump in because while I am a fan of Doug Engelbart’s work, I do not have the connection to him most people on this list seem to have. I never met him and, based on what I have heard, I felt that I would never be able to “get it” the way Mr. Engelbart got it. I would just have to muddle through with my interpretation of it.  


In some ways the lack of familiarity is helpful; instead of being worried about strict definitions, my concern is what works best and is used by the most amount of people. I can never achieve perfect Engelbart form, but if I am really good I can capture the spirit and function.  


In that spirit I would like to suggest two things. First, in terms of federating effort and creating an environment for development, I would like to recommend a process developed by Local Motors. They crowdsource the design of their vehicles at this site. It seems to me that creating a portal like this one to make it easy for people to jump on and off projects easily based on interest and skillsets is what the MOAD conference can use to facilitate the development of the Engelbartian tools we all need. It makes onboarding easier; plus you could build events around a site like this (hackathons, locals discussions, etc.) A centralized site with all of the projects that individuals across the country could swarm on. I think that could be a powerful thing. 


Second, it appears to me that there is a definition problem regarding what precisely to build. Different people have different priorities, and in the spirit of federation that would seem to expected. Instead of trying to constrain people to one set of features and risk alienating allies, MOAD50 can come up with a general set of guidelines (possibly specifically about how the data will be structured) and set everyone loose. MOAD50 doesn’t build a product; it establishes a framework or schema. This way, instead of revealing one product or tool, you can have an eco-system of interoperable tools, each of which speaks to an aspect of the Engelbartian vision. 


Just a thought from an uninitiated. Your personal mileage may vary. Thanks for your patience and thanks for organizing all this.”