Ming the Mechanic:
Transliterature

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Transliterature2005-10-24 22:31
11 comments
by Flemming Funch

Ted Nelson is the guy who basically invented hypertext. No, not the web, but the vision of interlinked information. And he's not quite happy with what we can do yet. He thinks we should start over, for that matter.
"Tekkies think that electronic documents and the World Wide Web are something completely new and that they own it, exactly the way every generation of teenagers thinks they've invented sex and it's their secret.

But it's not new and they don't own it. Word processing and the World Wide Web are not intrinsically new. They are literature.

What is literature? Literature is (among other things) the study and design of documents, their structure and connections. Therefore today's electronic documents are literature, electronic literature, and the question is what electronic literature people really need.

Electronic literature should belong to all the world, not just be hoarded by a priesthood, and it should do what people need in order to organize and present human ideas with the least difficulty in the richest possible form.

A document is not necessarily a simulation of paper. In the most general sense, a document is a package of ideas created by human minds and addressed to human minds, intended for the furtherance of those ideas and those minds. Human ideas manifest as text, connections, diagrams and more: thus how to store them and present them is a crucial issue for civilization.

The furtherance of the ideas, and the furtherance of the minds that present them and take them in, are the real objectives. And so what is important in documents is the expression, reception and re-use of ideas. Connections, annotations, and most especially re-use-- the traceable flow of content among documents and their versions-- must be our central objectives, not the simulation of paper.

Those who created today's computer documents lost sight of these objectives. The world has accepted forms of electronic document that are based on technical traditions, and which cannot be annotated, easily connected or deeply re-used. They impose hierarchy on the contents and ensnare page designers in tangles only a few can manage.

"Technology" must no longer be the emphasis, but literature. "Hypertext"-- a word I coined long ago-- is not technology but potentially the fullest generalization of documents and literature. Text on paper was the best way to present ideas in the paper era, when there was no other way; but now we see fantastic movies and commercials to imitate, and we have super-power graphics cards that can enact swoops and zooms hitherto scarcely imaginable. Tomorrow's true hypertext can give us far more powerful ways to show, integrate and embellish ideas-- leaving behind the imitation of paper represented by word processing and the web. It's time for a new flying cinematic literature to represent and present tomorrow's ideas."

Transliterature is what he's aiming for. Ted Nelson is a very smart man who thinks outside the box. But so far a lot of what he has proposed hasn't become practical to do. I hope that might change. It is kind of dumb we still live with metaphors like desktops and documents and folders, when we could do so much more.


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11 comments

25 Oct 2005 @ 04:35 by sandy @24.82.94.235 : naked shorting
Ming, I first saw naked shorting in an article you wrote.

It's come full circle

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25 Oct 2005 @ 05:03 by judih : Call it what you will- it's gonna happen
The diagrams ted nelson provides make it all so clearly doable. Flying links, maintaining the integrity of source documents, bringing 4D into 3D. So who cares if it's called desktop or documentation, it's all expanding our realm of communication.

I'm in.
judih  



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