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Talk: Towards an Interoperability Framework for Collaborative Tools

Eugene Kim
Blue Oxen Associates

Kim popularized Engelbart's notion of purple numbers; purple numbers are a scheme for granular addressing of information. Purple-numbered versions of Cory Doctorow's and Lessig's newest books are online; the numbers allow you to create a link to any paragraph in the book.

The talk was much broader that just a discussion of purple numbering. It was a discussion of the broader notion of making software more interoperable with regards to linking and the inclusion of information from various sources. Kim also briefly touched upon trying to work on a shared modelling language for data that would facilitate this linking, as well as provide benefits in being able to make more intelligent uses of data.

My notes in the extended entry are fairly poor, as I wasn't too copious and the actual presentation was brief. I haven't read Kim's A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools yet, but that would probably be a better followup.

Started working with Doug Englebart on Open Hyperdoc System.

Paper: Manifesto for Collaborative Tools (Dr. Dobbs)

Two elements of collab. software
- Sharing
- Information exchange

All of collab features exist, but not in an interoperable way
- document sharing
- IM protocols
- syndication formats

Backlinks
- many opportunities in software
- threaded forums
- e-mail (In-Reply-To)
- Audience suggestions: blogs, trackback, technorati

Eugene Kim took the idea of purple numbers from Englebart
- Englebart's daughter decided to make them purple
- Kim implemented it
- same addressing scheme as Augment(?)
- unexpected level of positive reaction
- XPointer is supposed to provide granular addressing, not well supported
- identifiers follow paragraph, even as it may be moved

Chandler
- problem: open source version of existing application, not leading with new ideas

Ted Nelson
transclusion: link, where content of the link is displayed

Shared modelling language for data
- next-gen "ascii"
- increase ability to link to information in other applications, e.g. link
to PIM info from word document

Making editors smarter
- syntax highlighting in code: have to write syntax parser to
generate underlying data model.
- more powerful search and replace if editor understands underlying
model
- if underlying data model is standardized, can make better editors.
- RDF is a candidate
- Hytime Groves

My thoughts:

I pushed Kim a little bit on the notion of backlinks. I first questioned the example of e-mail as a backlink; e-mails include a "In-Reply-To" ID, which Kim called a link. The backlink occurs in the e-mail program, when it displays the conversation thread. My mind felt a little funny at this last part; visually the backlink exists in the arrangement of objects in a tree, but nowhere on disk is it required that there be any bits stored anywhere representing the actual backlink (if you are storing data for a tree, you don't have to store the children links; you only have to store the parent links, or vice versa).

Also, in a fully, bi-directional linking system, the notion of a backlink can disappear. For example, Friendster/Orkut/etc... have taken the notion of linking and backlinking and have morphed it into a friend request->friend request confirmation. The process that initiates the linking is asymmetric (one person links to a friend), but once the process completes the link is completely symmetric.

BTW - I would characterize these thoughts as merely playing around with the definition of backlink and examining the corner cases; they are not serious critiques.

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