Better Than Reality: A Fundamental Internet Principle

Ways to Be Better Than Reality

  • be non-linear: don’t force users to live through a stream of time that they can’t control
  • customize service: computers can do different things for different people
  • be asynchronous: a customized link to check the status of an order allows a customer to resume a “conversation” many hours later without spending any time on reestablishing context
  • support anonymity: if people don’t have to reveal who they are, they may be more willing to do certain things
  • link liberally: links are the foundation of the Web and can make anything into an extension of your own service
  • support search and multiple views: different people have different preferences, and there is no need to be limited to a single way of doing things on the Web
  • be small and cheap: because of the efficiency of computers it is possible to deal in much smaller units than before
  • be free: it costs very little to offer free samples over the Web, so a book publisher could offer a free chapter and a consultant could offer free advice on some frequently asked questions (while charging for the full product or service, of course)
  • ignore geography: support users who access your site from home, the office, the car, while away on business trips or vacations, and from anywhere in the world

Ulysses and the Lie of Technological Progress

Joyce picked June 16 as the time of the novel partly to commemorate his first date with his future wife

.. it’s easy to render James Joyce a staid and honorable figure of cultural uprightness. But nothing could be less the case. Ulysses bathes in low-culture vulgarity

.. We chose Twitter, still a relatively esoteric “microblogging” platform in 2007, because it offered a perfect format for our interpretation. For one part, the invitation to post messages, in public, unfiltered, whatever thought or idea came out of one’s head perfectly paralleled Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness writing.

.. We registered 54 Twitter accounts in the names of Ulysses characters—from@BuckMulligan to @WifeOfSheehyMP, and converted the passages we’d selected and time-coded into 140-character tweets, adding @-mention cross-references where appropriate.

.. Twitter had published an application programming interface (API) for its service. Using the API, I wrote some software to automate the posting, such that everything would be timed correctly.

.. Adrienne LaFrance explained how a Pulitzer-nominated, 34-part investigative journalism series vanished entirely from the web. One reason: it was built on a technology platform, Flash

.. Works produced for HyperCard, Apple’s once-popular programming tool, have long since ceased to be viewable on modern computers.

..  One of the features that allowed Ulysses to become canon—hardly the only one, but one nevertheless—was its ability to be read by human eyeballs in 2016 as much as in 1986, 1956, or 1926.

.. The Twitter public timeline had been retired

.. The ultimate lesson of Ulyssesis that everything that seems permanent decays and returns to earth. But in so doing, it doesn’t vanish. It facilitates new growth, both native and invasive.

.. Bloomsday is the most contemporary of holidays, because it puts the lie to the conceit of contemporary life: that we move ever-forward through progress, amassing knowledge and innovation and adeptness. How quickly forgotten is the fundamental lesson of modernism—that entropy rules

.. It celebrates the ultimate technological advancement no matter the period: not discovery or innovation, but the warm, drunk rumble of the conversation between progress and decay.

An open letter to Jack Dorsey

Right now Facebook is completely dominating us. There’s no good outlet for blog posts that integrates well with FB because they don’t allow linking in their timeline posts.

If you look through Facebook, you won’t find many outbound links, they do all kinds of things to discourage it.

So they’re turning the web into a Facebook thing. Because that’s where we have to post to get engagement. But we can’t use the rest of the web. And that’s the problem.

The Future of the Web Is 100 Years Old

In 1893, a young Belgian lawyer named Paul Otlet wrote an essay expressing his concern over the rapid proliferation of books, pamphlets, and periodicals. The problem, he argued, should be “alarming to those who are concerned about quality rather than quantity,” and he worried about how anyone would ever make sense of it all. An ardent bibliophile with an entrepreneurial streak, he began working on a solution with his partner, a fellow lawyer named Henri La Fontaine (who would later go on to join the Belgian Senate and win the Nobel Peace Prize): a “Universal Bibliography” (Repertoire bibliographique universel) that would catalog all the world’s published information and make it freely accessible.

.. Otlet’s Mundaneum presented an alternative vision to today’s (nominally) flat and open web by relying on a high degree of bibliographical control. He envisioned a group of trained indexers managing the flow of information in and out of the system, making sure that every incoming piece of data would be properly categorized and synthesized into a coherent body of knowledge.

.. Otlet introduced an important new twist: a set of so-called “auxiliary tables” that allowed indexers to connect one topic to another by using a combination of numeric codes and familiar marks like the equal sign, plus sign, colon, and quotation marks. So, for example, the code 339.5 (410/44) denoted “Trade relations between the United Kingdom and France,” while 311:[622+669](485) meant “Statistics of mining and metallurgy in Sweden.”

.. The lack of intellectual property controls has created massive—and avoidable—disruption for authors, musicians, and other members of the creative trades (although it’s worth noting that Nelson’s Xanadu proposed solutions for intellectual property concerns).

.. Where Otlet and Wells envisioned publicly funded, trans-national organizations, we now have an oligarchy of public corporations.

.. By allowing for the consistent use of ontologies, or standardized definitions of topics, content types, and relationships, the Semantic Web promises to make it easier to combine data from disparate sources.6

.. “Filter on the way out, not on the way in,”

.. “All the distresses and horrors of the present time are fundamentally intellectual,” he wrote. “The world has to pull its mind together.”2

.. In other words, the dream of organizing the world’s information stemmed not from an authoritarian impulse, but from a deeply utopian one. In the United States, though, a very different kind of utopia was being imagined.

.. Bush argued that the human mind operates “by association,” not indexing. And so he proposed a system that would not impose any particular classification system, but would instead allow the user to create “associative trails” that would ultimately be made visible to other users.

.. The essay proved wildly popular, especially after it was reprinted in Life magazine. That version of the essay found its way into the hands of a young Navy officer named Douglas Engelbart, then stationed in the Philippines, who found Bush’s vision so inspiring that he chose to devote much of the rest of his life to realizing it

.. Personal liberation, empowerment, and revolutionary rhetoric—all deeply American traits—shaped the attitudes of many early personal computer hobbyists, and have persisted ever since in the cultural fabric of the modern technology industry.4

Embedded Markup Considered Harmful

SGML advocates I have talked to appear to have the belief that everything is either sequential and hierarchical, or can be represented that way. What is not expresssible sequentially and hierarchically is deemed to be nonexistent, inconceivable, evil, or mistaken.

.. I believe that embedded structure, enforcing sequence and hierarchy, limits the kinds of structure that can be expressed. The question we must ask is: What is the real structure of a thing or a document? (And does it reasonably fit the allowed spectrum of variation within the notational system?)

.. My principal long-term concern is the exact representation of human thought, especially that thought put into words and writing. But the sequentiality of words and old-fashioned writing have until now compromised that representation, requiring authors to force sequence on their material, and curtail its interconnections. Designing editorial systems for exact and deep representation is therefore my objective.

.. I believe we should find a very general representational system, a reference model which breaks apart in parallel what is represented by SGML and HTML. This would make the creation of deep editing and version management methods much easier.

.. Few understand the true nature of hypertext and its relation to thought, let alone the vast interconnection of ideas, and the way that most expressions of ideas sever and misrepresent them. Today’s popular but trivially-structured Web hypertext has excused people from seeing the real hypertext issues, or being able to create and publish deep complexes of thought.

Wiki: The Curse Of Xanadu

The problem wasn’t time, it was a combination of things that add up to unprofessionalism: AnalysisParalysis, bad project management, chronic underfunding most (but not all) of the time, in-fighting, and worst of all, they actually finished it a bunch of times! Back when Autodesk was funding them. But they took a perfectionist attitude, and always decided to rewrite the code from scratch every time they finished something that worked even a little bit, rather than release it. I was at AutoDesk at the time and saw working code demoed. A whip-cracking no-nonsense project manager would have changed the history of Xanadu single-handedly (if humanly possible, given the HerdingCatsProblem) — DougMerritt