Replacing the web

by Jack Seay - July 6, 2005

Our media unneccessarily reflects our political system. In my country, there are only two viable (electable) political parties. Only one is usually in dominent power at any give time, and only 2 points of view are considered worthy of a hearing. But there are often more than 2 sides to an issue. I will be controversial here, because the issue I am confronting is the lack of a media that correctly handles controversy. It is sometimes contended that wikis are the ideal media for presenting a plurality of views. I think this is not the case. A wiki discourages controversy (as do most mailing lists and Internet forums). You have to stay "on topic" because of a lack of structuring systems and inadequate personal filtering capability by and for each user. On mailing lists, everything gets thrown into a common pot. Forums allow starting new threads, but lack really good cross-linking and hypersharing among the threads. Wikis allow anyone to change anything, but this enables the destruction of information by vandals. A better solution would be to only allow creating new versions based on existing ones. Deleting something should only be allowed to the creator of that content, or for legal reasons; because deletion destroys links to the deleted content. It is better to just create a newer version of a document and leave the older version still available, but pointing to the new version (showing the changes made).

Others should have carte blanche to quote anything, but the original content creator should always receive payment and credit (if they are selling their content). In addition, any quotations should automatically link back to the original full-length context crafted by the author.

Second Life is planning on implementing HTML display in both 2D and 3D. This will be an improvement over the simple plain text notecards now in use or the 3D bitmap text that can be created now (with difficulty). But I hope this will only be a temporary transitional text-handling technique. SL deserves the features of Xanadu and zig-zag.

1. Links - 2 way unbreakable of different types: to and from any length spans, not just from a point to a full document.

2. Hypersharing - this will protect authors from having their work stolen or destroyed, and allow readers unlimited quoting rights. Also called transclusions, this will facilitate simple automatic incremental payment systems where desired; robust, powerful, and flexible versioning with visual intercomparison of versions.

3. Separating content from format. This will allow creating multi-use versions of the same document for various needs: PDA's and phones, printing, web pages, 3D and nD explorable documents, and much more.

4. Views: These are related to formats, but are templates that display any document in a variety of ways, 2D and 3D grids, stacks, scatter diagrams, simple pages, floating branching streams, and anything else that can be imagined. Formats will apply text styles to specific documents, views will display any document in a variety of ways.

Versions will allow each reader to have their own personal "copy" of any document, with their annotations, highlighting, footnotes, links, corrections, additions, etc. - without destroying the original. This personal version can be kept private to the reader or shared, and can even be hypershared in other people's personal versions. Movies can be made where anyone who wants to can edit their own scene list in any order they desire.

We are divided politically, religiously, and philosophically. We lack the proper forum to present our cases and compare them to others. Sure, we compare what we believe compared with a charicature of our own making of what we believe others believe, but that's not good enough. Let those who best understand a viewpoint present it fully, and then quote them in such a way that readers can follow every quote into its' original context. Let those who use a word define their own meaning of that word in their modified version of a dictionary. For example, a writer presenting a case for macro-evolution may use a definition of science as being the study of a naturalistic Universe (one not permitting a designer). And a writer presenting the case for intelligent design will obviously use a different definition of science. These different definitions of the same word are part of the full context of each presentation, and there cannot be a true understanding of either viewpoint without that context of the differences in the language. Same goes for all other viewpoints on this and any other topic.

HTML and the Web are hypertext very nearly as simple as possible. This has lead to overly complex fixes to try to overcome the limitations. What is needed is something as simple as appropriate, and as complex as needed to get the job done right. The Web doesn't even come close to that in any way, and never will as long as it doesn't have the basic feature set of Xanadu as outlined here. Ideally, I would here link to the better description of Xanadu in Ted Nelson's book "The Future of Information", but it is out of print.