Keeping Things Separate, Order and Chaos

by Jack Seay - Oct. 15, 2006 - freely distributable

In earlier articles, I condensed the key features (qualities) of Xanadu to two concepts: 1. keep all versions, and 2. separate content from presentation (formatting, views, dimensions, etc.). Perhaps even these two could be distilled even further: "keep things separate to maximize edit-ability and reuse". Keep all versions of a document. In Xanadu, this doesn't mean each version in a separate file. This would hinder version comparison and editing. By transcluding every version from a common permascroll, it becomes much easier to trace every part to it's origins and linkages to all other transcluded locations of it. If you have ever used a modern photo, animation, audio, or video editing program, you will no doubt know the value of having access to the source file(s), because of it's layers, timelines, overlaid effects, etc. This allows for changes to be more easily made for a variety of end uses. Xanadu proposes to allow the same capabilities to not only these media types, but text as well. By keeping formatting separate, not embedded (flattened), it becomes easier to edit one document, then have it formatted in a variety of ways (without having to re-edit the same things in each format). Applying the timeline concept to text facilitates version comparison.

By keeping links separate, they can be made both unbreakable and 2-way. A document can be kept continually linked to it's previous and future versions, reviews, comments, corrections, etc. Also by keeping links separate, you will not be limited to only one set of links to/from a document. Links can be typed and have attached descriptions, and put into any needed grouping. Hypertext, especially Xanadu, is often referred to as chaotic. While there is an element of truth to this, I think what Xanadu really facilitates is any combination of chaos and order desired. Links can point to an index (a classification system), but not to just one. There will be no "official" index endorsed by Xanadu, although there may be methods of recommending the ones users find useful. If you view total chaos as a random conglomeration of characters (gibberish) with links created randomly; and you view total order as a single imposed order and categorization of all documents - then Xanadu falls somewhere between these extremes. Anyone will be able to create an ongoing web of links showing the relationships of documents. Any group of people can do the same, if they wish, and any dissenting opinions among members of that group can be in separate, overlapping versions of the index (or just annotated). Any individual or group can choose any existing organization as a starting point for further annotation, linking, and categorization. Thus, categories won't cease to exist, but instead, there will be many, not just one, set of categories. And these will live in a continual state of change as 2-way links, format sets, documents, and versions are added to the pool of knowledge and creativity. Even this document could be reorganized many different ways, parts of it reordered, made into a variety of outlines or mind-maps, linked to other documents in a variety of ways (including all types of media).

Parallel physical universes may be debatable, but parallel conceptual universes will become a reality with Xanadu and zigzag, together called Floating World. Zigzag will provide the means of compositing the many separate layers of Xanadu into any combination desired. This will be done by each end user of the software: selecting, displaying, and editing the set of documents, versions, formats, and views needed for their purposes. This will affect the way education happens, since it could allow for an individual to become educated specifically to add to their knowledge and skills in the ways that best meets their needs. No more mass production, assembly line methods trying to vainly stamp out cloned minds (in a limited number of categories). Deciding what needs to be learned is a dynamic process, based on an individual's changing knowledge, abilities, and talents, and constantly modified by the continuous addition to the world's ocean of knowledge and creative documents (in every type of media). A student's needs and desires for personal growth and goals for the future are constantly being updated, and "education" needs to accommodate this. Total chaos in the world could be thought of as a war where every person is an army of one trying to kill everyone else. It is not a desirable condition. Total order would be a world of identical robots. Also, not desirable. The key to a balance of order and chaos is to create a maintainable growing accumulation of documents, keeping all the component parts and allowing assembly into any useful or needed form.