Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hyperwords and Collaboration

Collaboration: 1970s

When I went to school, we had a model of collaboration based on an old technology, paper. We started with an existing document, and added information to it. This would transform the document from let's say a piece of ruled paper, into an essay. Or in other cases it would transform a quiz or test into our completed sheet, which would then be forwarded for further processing.

The teacher would then read the document, circle or highlight, or otherwise add markup and notations to help indicate areas of improvement, correction, or other information. The document would then be sent back to the student to complete the feedback loop.

It was a simple, effective workflow, with millenia of experience embedded into it.

Collaboration: Web 2.0

Create a document in your editor of choice. Cut and paste and markup and highlight your text to suit your audience. Publish this document in HTML to a web server.

Since HTML doesn't allow external markup, the choices for your collaborators become:
  1. Copy the document, and embed markup in the document
  2. Point to the document you want to talk about, copying sections to try to bring focus to the areas of interest
  3. Point ot the document, and just write about it in general terms.
Options 1 and 2 are feasible when you don't have DRM or Copyright Nazi's watching your every move. Option 3 is used as a last resort when the tools available are too crude, or any copying is prohibited.

The ability to add markup to a document is one of the key things that prevents Web 2.0 from really being a "live web". We can plaster our servers with pages, but no true markup is possible. The words on web pages are always always static, because they've been published.


Doc Searls solicited comments about the HyperWords plugin. With the above view of what it really takes to interact with a document, and the words within... I'd have to say it doesn't fit the bill. This plugin, though clever, and apparently a great tool, does nothing to change the read-only nature of the web (even the "Live Web").

I'm already using "search google for" in Firefox (highlight text, then right-click) as a very powerful cross referencing tool. The problem is that the cross reference doesn't persist. There's no permanent connection made between the document and the found links. In fact, there's no way to make any persistent markup of a web page in a browser. The browser is read-only, and is likely to remain that way for the duration.

Towards a writeable web

We do need the ability to make this stuff interactive. If I see something wrong with a posting, I should be able to put a post-it note up there, somehow. Even if nobody else can see it, it might be helpful for me. I believe that this markup of hypertext would be a quite valueable tool for others as well.

Any tool which helps transform the web from read-only to truely read-write in a sane process gets my vote.

I'm a hacker at heart, I'm willing to discuss the mechanics of this with anyone.

Yes, I know that inviting markup invites grafitti, spam, etc. That's what IDENTITY is for, to help limit those the application of markup to those with non-bad (or perhaps good) reputations.

Yes, I know it'll require a new protocol to support annotation of external documents. HTML is embedded only, we need to rethink this.

I'm one lone voice in the wilderness, trying to find others who share my viewpoint. Can the live web help?


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Steve Sherlock said...

No, you are not alone on this. A post-it type concept should work nicely. I agree that identity is going to be the key to this and therein we have a problem. I fear too many people are not going to want to allow the identity card to be played properly for this to tak eoff and work. There already is an anonablog, a wiki to help anonymous blogging. Which for some specific political government situations makes sense but unfortunately can easily be extended elsewhere by almost anyone.

But keep at it. I think it is worth a try.

Frode Hegland said...

You are right of course. Hyperwords does nothing to change the read-only nature of the web. But that is not the initial purpose, it's simply to help you get through the web more on your terms.

Having said that, the future of Hyperwords does include more collaboration features, such as glossaries, color coding & markup as well as deciding on the view of web pages. Have a look at an early prototype for this (older than the Firefox Extension but server based): hyperwords.net/hyper4 Just type in any URL and point to words.

Of course, beyond that is where it really gets exciting!