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Digital Document Discourse

Academic discourse is document-citation based: Someone publishes a document’ (paper’ or a book) and someone comments on it by publishing a new document which cites/refers to the original document. This has worked well in the analog world for over seven hundred years. The transition to digital academic documents are still rooted in this past whereas other digital communication has moved along the path of connecting texts by their named document’s location; the DNS system. This makes for fast retrieval–if the document is where the address specifies so over time the system becomes brittle. I believe that we can create a digital discourse environment taking the best of digital and the best of citing by providing instant access to cited documents if you already have them and also awareness of documents citing the documents you have in the future.

My dream is to improve academic discourse by taking advantage of digital opportunities while not introducing digital fragility. The dream is further to allow anyone to be able to take part in a dialog where they have the full toolset of modern word processing applications available for their writing–giving them time, space and interaction to really think and reflect–while still being in a digitally alive thread of dialog. Not just little boxes for comments at the end of blog posts or in social media.

How can we implement a system where we publish to documents (initially PDF), cite documents with two magical things can happen: First, if you read a citation in a document and the cited PDF is on your system, you can click to open it, without going to the web. Second. if someone cites your document, you are somehow notified that it has been cited, making a citation path for discourse. Maybe block chain or maybe Twitter? Twitter is good since it can distinguish between notes someone you follow has made from those you don’t. Questions include: How can we implement this? What to publish to Twitter and how to read it?

However, having written the above, slept, listened to some great music, had breakfast, worn a cowboy hat and sat down to write this out, it strikes me that the first is the solution to the second: If the document is already on the user’s system (hard drive or cloud) then it should be trivial, if the documents have Visual-Meta, to alert the user to what documents cite it, in effect we have a backlink database in the documents themselves.

Therefore, what we need is simply a document distribution system. This could be as simple as emailing friends and associates and it would be quite automatic for academic publishers to distribute. For ad-hoc groups though, maybe an app watching the user’s email download folder and copies any PDF with Visual-Meta into the user’s library. The opportunities are very good for how a document which knows what it is and how it connects can be presented and interacted with.

Here is a rendering of how this might appear, though this is an open system and so anyone can make any kind of library. Imagine the dots to the left of the documents in the library indicate that the document has been cited in documents you have not yet opened. Grey means anyone cited it, green means it is cited by someone you cited and red means it is your document and someone cited it.


Library. Hegland, 2021.

Digital Document Discourse

Published inVisual-Meta

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