The Primacy of Editing

by Jack Seay - Dec. 9, 2005 - freely distributable

The focus of web browsers is all wrong.

Users are made into spectators, not participants of the sport of web surfing. Reading is not a passive endeavor. The reader is also a thinker. That means that I, the reader, am always thinking of how I agree or disagree, what links I want to add here, what bookmarks I would like to add (not just to the document, but to this word or sentence). Maybe I want to add emphasis to an important point by putting it in bold text or italics

I don't think like anyone else and I don't agree with anyone else (about everything). That is because I have seen this universe as a set of experiences that no one else has shared. And this is true of you too, if you take the time to really think about it. So I would like to mark up and personalize everything, even if I am the only one who will be reading my version at any time in the future. So what? I'm the reader. Why shouldn't I get to put in my point of view into everything I read? You don't have to read it unless you want to. And you can do the same thing. Why shouldn't there be as many versions of a document as there are readers? What's so bad about that? It's only as it should be.

There should be an automatically created audit trail of all the documents I have read, and all the changes I made for many years into the past. And there should be no broken links, no missing documents in that trail. Any formatting, outlining, or notes I made should apply also to newer versions, as far as possible.

I can choose to make any or all or this public, or just keep it all private. It's up to me.

I'm writing this in Thinker, a hypertext program that existed before the web. I can add a link just by typing it, then double-click and browse to that page and even paragraph. No mode change. I can format text without having to see or know formatting codes. Again, without a mode change. I can easily change my text into an outline and show or hide outline levels individually, or for the whole document. I can make a quick spelling correction or re-word an awkward sentence or put a question in parenthesis. Why isn't reading and editing documents on the web this easy? Perhaps it's because those designing the software think of people as no more than potato-heads, holding onto the mouse as one would hold onto a tv remote. But I want more. If it was tv, I would want to interrupt the commentator and ask a question, make a comment, agree or disagree, refer to another span of another program. Get the idea? That's why I quit watching tv years ago. But now I'm stuck with the text and picture equivalent of tv in the world wide web. How lame is that!

Sometime in the near future, we will look back and say, what were we thinking? Why did we settle for so little real participation?