The Four R’s, Part I: Writing

Posted in projects, technology by johnsnavely on November 1, 2008

Too Many MCs, Not Enough Mics

The idea that I’ve got anything original to say is patently false. Most of my good ideas are basically my friends ideas.

A while ago, T and I had a lot of talks about the nature of the web, its relation to what we actually do in real life and what kinds of tools it should have. We’ve talking about the idea of conversations on the web. Specifically, the way conversations happen in blogs.

The major problem (that T observed) is that blogs are not structured very well for multithreaded conversations; they barely work for a dialogue. I’d like to extend this thought to the content that’s on the web, in general.

If you were to imagine the internet as a connected graph, with a site or webpage or document being a node, and the edges being links (hrefs) between the pages, you’d find two things.

First, the graph is “all node”. In the past decade, the size, quantity, and quality of the nodes have all increased or improved. We’ve seen an explosion of tools that allow you to put whatever content you want, in whatever format you want into the ether. However, these tools only really affect the nodes of this graph. The edges remain thin. Not only are the edges devoid of content, but when it comes to links the semantic web is pretty much a dead beat dad.

There are starting to be tools out there which “thicken” the edge. Delicious, in it’s own way, is one (and one of the most powerful). An abysmal example is Snapfish, aka disable-this-wordpress-plug-in-asap. Another richer example, however, might be this web app that my bud Jason showed me called apture.

Apture –

It’s got the ability to make links rich, with a simple javascript include. And it starts to overlay that information, through rollovers and popups, in such a way that it might enhance my understanding rather than randomize me.

There’s also another approach to thickening the edge, one that’s a little more my style. Imagine again, the entire internet (every site, node, or destination) flattened out into a single sheet. I can browse by panning and zooming, an interface we already see gaining popularity in apps like cooliris and seadragon. With a traditional link, I click on something and I am instantaneously taken there with no transition. In this UI, clicking on a link can either zoom (allowing me to see content at greater resolution) or pan (showing me related content).

What’s cool about these transitions is that I can see what’s happening in between. The edge is an entire transition, a set of nodes that you can see as you pass from one to another, or details that you might miss with single, instant focus.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, content creation on the internet is still mostly “writing” which is still associated with node creation rather than edge creation. This leads to situations where you’ve got redundant nodes because you can’t “write” an edge very well. For example, how many of you have seen in your feed reader the same post (sometimes with the same wording) repeated on several different blogs? Why can’t these be aggregated and filtered easily? It would seem to be a simple task, at first.

Or consider how you use your social network on your reader or delicious. It’s not enough to know that your friend visited a particular site, you’d love to know more about how they actually used it. I would like to be able to see a delicious url (of one of my friends) in a pan & zoom movie. I can watch, 3rd person, how someone else uses the internet, and at any time takeover and find things myself. (There is a danger here, of course, of “turning everything into a videogame”.)

Anyway, these thoughts are bit random, but I am trying to be quite practical about them. After getting a new laptop, instead of immediately reinstalling all my familiar apps, I’ve tried to switch to things I think I should be using and seeing if they impact my productivity.