What would a Xanadu chat look like?

Jack Seay
Feb.19, 2003

There are several visible threads of discussion going on that interest you and are therefore visible. But there are many subtle and some dramatic differences between this and traditional chat. You can edit any of the text (or other media). All versions will be available. When you drop in on a discussion, you can see what has been said before and put a future date on a message so it arrives as a reminder to yourself and/or others. Each topical tread is visually distinct, but sometimes merges or diverges with other threads as the topic shifts. You can mark certain people to be filtered out and others to automatically bring you into any discussion they are a part of. Any segment(s) can be linked visually to any other segment(s) of a discussion (or version of a discussion) using a variety of types of links. Any document of any length can be inserted into any conversation as supporting or refuting evidence. When someone is leading or moderating a discussion, you can specify to what percentage you are in agreement. Then when someone wants to first study the comments in agreement, then later those not, they have a sorting mechanism. If someone in your filtered-out list makes a good comment, then someone in your favorite list could upgrade that comment so it would be detected on your radar screen.

I find that traditional chat and verbal debate often lacks in quality because the participants are expected to respond before they have had time to research and think. They may be trying to please a group of people cheering for their victory. So they make foolish comments such as judging the motives of others. Actions and words however, being observable, are capable of being judged. Answers such as "I don't know, give me a few days/months to research and think" should be perfectly acceptable. Discussions, since all comments are preserved for the ages, can take as much time as needed, perhaps even years. Serious thought as well as filtered and summarized supporting evidence could be presented in as much depth as needed.

If you tried, in a traditional chat, to "paste" large quantities of documentation into the one stream of dialog, it would quickly scroll off screen and not be read. If instead, it was put in a separate stream, it could be scanned or read at leisure without interrupting the main discussion. These streams could appear as vertically stacked windows with links visible between them. They could contain any combination of text, audio, video, programs, and VR.

Anyone with an opinion and time can attempt to create an outline of the whole or can modify someone else's. There can be many such overviews of the same set or subset of discussions.

A possible organizing structure could consist of a four layer pyramid. The bottom layer would be the raw data. The second layer would be the discussion, logical analysis, and insights from experience. The third layer would be various hypothesis, conjectures, speculations, and theories linking the details. The top layer would be conclusions. Anyone could create such a pyramid consisting of what they consider to be the material most relevant to any topic or interconnected topics. Others could create modifications or entirely new pyramids that could intersect, overlap, and form three (or more) dimensional structures showing linkages and shared elements. The conclusions of several pyramids could then form the foundation layer for a more abstract pyramid whose conclusions would of course depend on the validity of the foundational elements.

A similar process could be used to design, write, and test software. The foundation could be the wishlist of the features. Discussion could then evaluate language choices, structures, methods, priorities, algorithms, and user interaction. Animated prototypes could be the third layer, and the top layer would be the working code, which would be tested and new user wishes fed back into the bottom layer in an iterative process.

Now imagine studying in a typical university library. The books are categorized according to a cryptic code. Books on the exact same topic are often on completely different floors. Footnotes, to be useful, must be painstakingly looked up in the back of the book. Books and articles in the bibliography and cross references are difficult to obtain. Compare this to a hypertext library where every footnote and cross reference is instantly accessible, archived and live chat with fellow readers is possible in reference to any sentence, audio and video lectures and documentaries are linked for instant access, a record is kept of all your explorations for future reference and sharing. And you can always comment, mark up, and annotate everything.

This implements some of the Lifestreams concepts using the Xanadu/ZigZag data model. This is the opposite of much publishing design, where content is treated as a disposable and worthless filler. This is complex linking and interaction made possible by the simple concept of a persistent, multidimensional data store.