Ming the Mechanic:
Strong Elastic Links

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Strong Elastic Links2010-07-10 13:01
18 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

There's something fundamentally messed up about the way we store and use information. Most of our information connects really badly with related information, and with the stuff the information is about.

I've talked about that before, like here: Connected Information, so I'll try not to repeat myself. It is however, somewhat difficult to convey my point. I've tried writing and rewriting this as an article a couple of times, but left it unfinished. It still isn't coming out very clear, but I'll leave it at that.

I want information to be linked, by unbreakable elastic links, to what the information is about.

The type of links we know on the web are useful, way more useful than no links. But they're but a pathetic shadow of the type of links we potentially could have that truly would be useful and reliable.

I'm sure it is not only me who have found some interesting article on the net or in a magazine about something new and promising. Say, self-driving cars or super-efficient solar cells. And then, months later, when I try to search for information about how that project might be going now, there's no trace of it. Some journalist did some kind of investigative job and wrote about something. On the web it might even include some clickable links to more information, like another article or a company website. When I come back some months later, those might still be there, or they might not. It is quite likely those links would point to some frozen information from that same time period. What happened later might remain a mystery, unless I have the time and resources to do a fresh piece of detective work.

The links we use on the web are like addresses on an envelope that we put in a mailbox. They indicate some kind of coordinates for a recipient. "He's over there!" But he might not be. The address might have changed and become invalid, or it might now be occupied by somebody else who has no relation to the person I'm trying to reach. The links don't follow the target when it moves. Likewise, web links aren't very good at linking up real people or real subjects.

Part of the problem is that the web links are one-way pointers. They just point in the direction of some virtual place. That place doesn't easily know that they're being linked to, because there's no link the other way. So, even if they wanted to, they couldn't easily update others on the status of what they linked to. Even if they could, it would still be a cumbersome thing to do.

Links shouldn't just be some address. They should actually link the two things.

The reason you have problems with spam is because the contents of the e-mail messages you receive don't really link up with anything. There's an address for the sender and the recipient, and addresses for servers that have processed the e-mail. All of that can be arbitrarily made up by anybody, because the e-mail doesn't actually link to the sender and the recipient. It can say all sorts of stuff that isn't at all true, or it can say things that were true at some point, but which go out of date later.

Imagine that you could attach a link to something, and that link, without a doubt, would maintain the connection, no matter what.

For the moment, never mind how it could be done, but imagine that between all people, all groups, all subjects and all media about any of these things, between all of those there would be unbreakable links. Hard links, so to speak, or strong links, but elastic, as they will "stretch" to any length no matter how the nodes move around and transform.

You probably know what school you went to in a certain year. That school is a rather finite entity. It should not be a matter of archaeological detective work to retrieve the information of who the principal was, and what became of any of the teachers or any one of the students. The school was an unmistakable entity. It was there, very physically, it had buildings, it was paid for, it stayed there for a long time. The same with all the people who were there. Every single one was unmistakably a real, living, breathing person. There's really nothing fuzzy about it at all. But in accordance with the way we typically treat information, it has been saved in a very fuzzy manner. If you go search for your school in search engines, there is likely to be some doubt about what school you're talking about, and whether it even exists. It is going to be very hard to locate a list of teachers or a complete list of students, if one exists. The information was kept on pieces of paper, which might have been mislaid or lost or falsified, and maybe never digitized. Even if you found the list, you wouldn't know if it was the right one, and even if you did, it is only a list of names and maybe addresses and maybe a photo. Most of these people have moved, many of them have changed their names, some have died, etc. It would be a huge amount of work to track them down, and you'd probably have to give up on quite a few of them.

We've gotten so used to sloppy, unlinked information that we find it quite natural and normal that information gets lost or that it is hard to reconstruct or that nobody knows if it is true or not. We even find a certain comfort and security in all this fuzziness. There's no government that is sure how many people there are in the country it governs. And that's despite that they really want taxes from all of them, and they don't want illegal immigrants, and everybody needs an ID. And the subject matter, persons, is in no way vague. It isn't difficult to decide if somebody is a person or not. They're very finite and the number of people is finite.

The moment you commit information to little bits of paper and sloppy handwriting and filing cabinets and vague references to other storage places, the game is lost. The link between the information and what it is about is no longer there. It isn't much better if the same system is simulated with computers. Useful information can often be reconstructed, but there's nothing that guarantees that.

In the electronic world, we should by now be able to do much better. There's absolutely no reason to store our information in the same sloppy manner, lists of names and addresses in files that can be lost and falsified, or, worse, in free unstructured text form that also is stored in fairly random places, without real links to the subject matter.

What I'm asking for is, in part, two-way links, as one can pull the string from either side. But it is also unbreakable links, not just pointers. Not just signs that point in the general direction of the other piece of information. Rather, something like an electrical wire. The moment somebody cuts it, an alarm goes off. Or a quantum entanglement kind of mechanism, where you just can't mess with it without it being noticed.

How can one practically implement it? I didn't say I knew how, just that I want it, and that everything we do with information would totally change if we had reliable links. But it is not like it is an unsolvable problem. It would in no way be impossible to provide each living person with a unique encrypted ID code. There are certainly issues of politics and of privacy, and of identity theft, but they could be solved if there were any unified wish to have unique IDs. As it is now, it is in most places a no-brainer to acquire multiple ID numbers or to disappear to somewhere else.

The same applies to things, places, organized groups, subjects, etc. Information is as sloppily kept as for people, or more. A car at least has an ID number, but it is only used by government agencies, not for recording your photos or car trips or anything else.

A lot of stuff might deserve being very loosely joined, but not facts. A piece of information that is or could be a fact when recorded shouldn't later be a matter of searching and guessing. You should know its level of correctness by the way it is linked, not by some forensic text analysis.

Our shared information system has Alzheimer's. Real events instantly get converted into vague guesswork and conjecture and interpretation and stories and remixed soundbites. And then we expect to pour all of that stuff together, have a machine sort it all, and then we'll discover how really smart we are?

We'd probably get somewhere faster if we at least could keep most of the objective stuff straight, and then we could use our imagination and reasoning abilities for more important stuff than merely trying to reconstruct what is going on.


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18 comments

10 Jul 2010 @ 17:49 by istvan : Progess is what progress is.
Your latest newsposts indicate to me that you/we might be ready,even if not 100% equipped make some "actionable" changes at NCN.

Without malicious intent to criticize,I want to state that after about a10 year membership, I have not made one single meaningful contact,have not networked with anu group or individuals toward my purpose of being here: and that would my deep desire to work for a better world to live in and leave for my child.
The question arises, am I really here?
The latest subject I am deeply contemplating/researching is, not only of who am I, but who are we as a "collective", all together as humans.
The emerging picture is not a pretty site. Besides false claims and clever descriptions of angels and light-workers, I haven't found one yet. Of course I could be wrong. If you know one please let me know.
Aside fro chatting, I think if we want to change the world, or just NCN et-all we mus start from where we are. If I want to go to New york and buy a train ticket from Chicago to there eventually it will dawn on me that I am in Florida.
So how can even talk about peace unless I am a pacifist, How can I talk about love unless I am love,how can I talk about light unless I am enlightened, an so on and on.
The world is not a wery good place to dwell now,but before a change is possible one must know "Another world is possible".
So search and provide tools to achieve that. NCN would be a perfect toolbox for such a mechanic.

 



10 Jul 2010 @ 21:42 by ming : Actionable changes
Istvan, I must admit, even though I'm getting quite motivated to launch some new things, it is not primarily NCN that is in my mind here. However, I am indeed at the same time working on a relaunch of the NCN site, starting somewhat low key with a different front page, not with a completely new infrastructure for collaboration. But I'm open to things coming together that didn't come together before.  


11 Jul 2010 @ 05:24 by bytesmiths : What are you looking for?
Istvan, I hear your frustration. I set out on a path I believed chose me, and put five years of my life into largely volunteer work to establish a self-sustaining community, using my life savings, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

I agree "the emerging picture is not a pretty site," and I set out to change one small bit of it, because I believe that's all any of us can do. Like you, I got tired of all the talk, and wanted to DO SOMETHING about it all!

But I guess I got too ambitious, and tried to "fix" too many things; the unconventional is unpalatable to most people, no matter how progressive they view themselves.

So now we're scaling back our plans, in the hope of finding one other party (single, couple, family) who can share a sustainable future -- and who can help pay for it.

(Click on "Link" to see this business proposal for a "lifeboat community".)

[link]  



11 Jul 2010 @ 08:56 by swanny @70.65.31.24 : Enjoyment
Hmmm well I think some make things more complicated then they need be.
It would seem if one or some don't enjoy what they're doing or aspiring to,
then they only succeed to build a kind of misery into what they labor at.
Rather I would think, ask "now what would I really like to do?" and how can and will that sustain me and mine.
and proceed thus. Trying to change the world or live ones life any other way would seem only to build the misery one is trying to leave behind or change.

ed jonas  



11 Jul 2010 @ 09:09 by swanny @70.65.31.24 : Guide
In short, it does not seem sensible to replace one kind of drudgery with another and therefore and therein "LET ENJOYMENT BE YOUR GUIDE, more or less".
Seems to me after all that people who truly enjoy what they're doing bring a credibility and truth to such that cannot otherwise be easily manufactured or duplicated, and they tend to know the innards and well being of such more intimately and well to.  



11 Jul 2010 @ 09:18 by swanny @70.65.31.24 : Qualified Enjoyment
Qualified Enjoyment

Okay well to tidy that up a bit. "Let Enjoyment be Your Guide, within Reason and Law."
Don't want to have folks going overboard after all. jeezz.  



11 Jul 2010 @ 19:11 by jmarc : Dead linkage
I run into that problem often, trying to link to streaming radio online. Radio stations seem to change stream hosts often (maybe unpaid bills)and it becomes a bit of a chore to keep them up to date. It would be nice if they updated automatically.

Pertaining to above comments, ask not what your country (website, sustainable village et al) can do for you, blah blah blah.  



13 Jul 2010 @ 02:16 by mortimer : Link Checker
W3C Link Checker: radioreview.us/ - Check links and anchors in Web pages or full Web sites...
http://validator.w3.org/checklink?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fradioreview.us%2F&summary=on&hide_type=all&depth=&check=Check

results; (Checked 1 document in 1120.28 seconds.)  



13 Jul 2010 @ 21:30 by jmarc : Hi Mortimer
Yes, I know of that. It doesn't read buttons tho... it works great with text links.  


13 Jul 2010 @ 22:18 by mortimer : ya I figured
Its not exactly what you talking about..."It would be nice if they updated automatically". But w3.org does offer the source. Buttons? you mean the dial.html , I started look at it last night. I can make a admin page for that radio dial if you want. Looks like fun to me.

Ming, how do you feel about implanting chips in all the peoples. Strong Links huh. The best systems i seen was for health care and they ran everything with URI. e.g. each heart monitor gets an address. Strong elastic links is what a name server offers.  



14 Jul 2010 @ 01:24 by ming : Links
The whole Internet is based on very soft links and a lot of flexibility and redundancy. Stuff has addresses, and services like DNS keep track of where they're found, and you send stuff from sender addresses to recipient addresses, and if it doesn't seem to have arrived, you send it again. Which would all be great except for that stuff moves and any of it can easily be falsified.

I'm primarily thinking about information, but, yes, it opens up all sorts of privacy issues if we want to track people more definitely. It wouldn't be a hard problem, technically, to keep thoroughly good records for 6-7 billion people. It is quite an interesting question why the governments have left such gigantic holes in their control systems so that they do this exceptionally sloppily. It isn't that hard to figure out that as soon as you travel around a little bit, the links break. If you move to a new country, they don't go and check who you were in the old country, they just go by the paperwork you bring.  



14 Jul 2010 @ 03:09 by mortimer : From ephemera to artifact - ARC files
The Internet Archive - [link] ~ Our hardware consists of PCs with clusters of IDE hard drives. Data is stored on DLT tape and hard drives in various appropriate formats, depending on the collection. Web data is received and stored in archive format of 100-megabyte ARC files made up of many individual files. Alexa Internet (currently the source of all crawls in our collections) is proposing ARC as a standard for archiving Internet objects. See Alexa for the format specification.  


14 Jul 2010 @ 09:10 by swanny @70.65.31.24 : geolinks
well the things I'd like to have in links
is
1. where the link is located on the Earth
2. Who was the author
3. the last time it was modified
4. and the time it was created.
and perhaps a visual of some sort of categorization of it.

so for this entry then it would be
Link 70.65.31.24
Alberta Canada
A.G.Jonas
last modified 3:10 AM MDT July 2010
created July 13 2010 3:08 AM MDT Wednesday

and then whatever else one wants to add  



14 Jul 2010 @ 09:39 by swanny @70.65.31.24 : Google Earth and ?
hmmm well I see its already been done somewhat using Google Earth
but its a little to complex for my liking,
I like something a little more intuitive and user friendly
pdf link = [link]
site link = [link]

what it does is link the site data to a specific location now say it shows a picture of a place it link the picture to the place or say it talks about a person it links the person to a place but what about the temporal element then?  



14 Jul 2010 @ 11:03 by ming : Geo
There's already lots of good stuff in the existing standards for what you can put in HTML, which point towards a Semantic Web. There are already standard tags for where the document was created and when and by whom. All of that is good, and one can piece lots of stuff together from that. But the trouble is that it has to be pieced together at all, and that the coverage is really spotty.  


14 Jul 2010 @ 11:34 by jmarc : center of the web
As Ming mentioned, it seems that it would be fairly simple to have some sort of centralized clearing house holding all of the information and updating links as they move or disappear, but that brings up the issue of control. I think when Al Gore invented the interweb, the idea was to have many ways to route info,, in case of nuclear war, in whiich case having all data in one spot makes it a prime target, not to mention the issue of who gets to control that spot.
Maybe it's best to wait for quantum computing, and then decentralizing the info, but making it redundant, with every computer attached to the net holding a portion of that info.

Swanny- html 5 has geolocation HTML5 NEW API's but isnt supported by all browsers yet.

Mortimer- I misspoke about dial.html. Each button actually points to a seperate page in the directory, so all of those files are accessable, it is a matter of testing the single link inside each single page that gets tedious. I'm sure I wrote that in a way that could have been made much more simple with some script, but the three frames approach accidentally on purpose seems to get by a lot of page blockers that may be in force at say, somebody's place of business, because it seems that bots have difficulty with frames too.  



14 Jul 2010 @ 11:46 by swanny @70.65.31.24 : thanks
thanks although i had a look and it seems more geared to telling a website where one is and not so much telling where the website is, so i guess I'd like to have both that info although I sort of know where I am although I suppose if one is on a mobile that would be problematic.  


14 Jul 2010 @ 12:38 by ming : Center
I'm not really proposing a centralized clearing house. I'm not entirely sure what I'm proposing, but it is not some all-powerful bureaucracy. Quantum entanglement would really be closer to it. Or DNA. If we DNA test you and your parents, there's no doubt as to whether you're their child or not. You can't fake it. Would be nice if other types of information were equally reliable.  


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2007-07-13 23:42: Plan vs Reality
2007-07-12 22:53: Emergence and democracy



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