The Future Text Project
I would like to ask for your help.
Knowledge Work is Not all in the Mind
A basketball player dunks from across the court, a footballer dribbles past to a perfect shooting spot and a dancer swirls and spins and the crowd goes wild.
Meanwhile, back in the office the knowledge worker fires up Microsoft Word, hacks out a few sentences and asks a colleague for help since they’re not that ‘techie’ and then at lunch looks across the cafe at the geeks with stickers on their laptops clicking away and doesn’t reflect on their virtuosity but reflects on their ‘sadness’ and listens to *Insert name of country here*’s Got Talent in the evening and almost weeps at the beautifully sung performance in the evening and considers that just a ‘talent’, not taking into account the hours and hours the singer spent perfecting and learning to control her voice. The very next morning the office worker watches a marketing video with brilliant effects presented by the marketing team and wish they had such computer skills, then takes another bite of the doughnut and half-thinks about that promise of starting to go to the gym, a thought interrupted by the dread of having to write that quarterly report comes to mind – it’s just too hard , too many things to juggle – “my job is to sell these things, that’s an intellectual and social job, not to write complicated reports like John is too good at, but then, he’s such a geek, he’s good with computers”…
Why is it that knowledge work is seen by so many as being something in the mind and that computers are just the things you use to write down their genius ideas? Knowledge work is not all in the mind.
Artists sketch their ideas out on paper – they think with paper. Scientist think with diagrams and babies learn with toys. Work happens somewhere and that somewhere is our brains extended with our tools; both mental tools and physical/virtual tools.
Computer game players know this and demand not just better graphics in every new games platform but also better ‘gameplay’ – better ways to move in the virtual world to achieve your objective. Yet with knowledge work we are still hamstrung by the limitations we have carried over from paper and largely ignored the huge leaps made by Doug Engelbart's work – Where is the demand from knowledge workers for better ‘gameplay’ for work systems?
Cells were not seen until we had microscopes and the moon was not trod upon until we had rocket ships. Before we had writing we did not have reliable means to freeze our thoughts and to consult them later, we relied on story tellers and verbal agreements. Writing changed our species from one living in a moment to one living and collaborating across time and space. Now we have digital text and the frozen record can be consulted in ways previously yet we are only so very slightly scratching the surface of this new intellectual opportunity.
At a time when AI is finally reaching mass adoption, let us not neglect IA; Intelligence Augmentation.
9th of December 2018
What intellectual breakthroughs will become possible with more powerful knowledge systems?
I invite you to join me to help me to find out, at least as a tiny, potential punctum Archimedis, as I work to develop something useful to demo on the 9th of December 2018, on the 50th anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s ‘mother of all demos’ : doug-50.info
I have a very specific goal: Create a ‘Liquid View’ to investigate how we can make word processor text more visually interactive, inspired by Doug Engelbart's passion for ViewSpecs:
A more Liquid View
The feature would allow the user to instantly toggle from a traditional word processor view to Liquid Views by hiding all the body text and turning the headings into nodes which then become manipulatable in a myriad new and powerful ways to better organise the users knowledge – to see relationships, associations and groupings which may not otherwise have become apparent – making the text more liquid and the experience more fluid – AND toggle back to the traditional word processor view, making this ‘curiosity’ and ‘thinking space’ instantly part of the users workflow, not a separate application to migrate to and from.
This is not simply an outline, this can become a concept map, mind map something as sophisticated as Japanese style Kj-Ho note-card thinking or as simple as working with Post-It notes.
The research will be to build and test several types of liquid views but an initial view is being designed and tested already and a walkthrough mockup is available on YouTube youtube.com/watch?v=InMcFp7zMNE, initial design specifications are available at dropbox.com/s/51sca9wbef0nq7z/Liquid%20View%20Description%20.pdf?dl=0 and as further described at futureoftext.org/more-visually-interactive.html
Although implemented initially for a single word processor (The Liquid | Author word processor for macOS, designed specially for this project), the techniques and technologies will be made available for other implementations.
Supporting me already are people people who worked with Doug Engelbart, people who are changing academia from within, the man who coined the word hypertext, one guy co-invented the internet, another was one of the original Macintosh coders, a word processor developer (me) and another who created Siri.
We (myself plus a team at the University of Southampton) plan to make PDFs our Trojan horses, by embedding rich documents in them so that when a user publishes from the new and more powerful systems and someone who only has a PDF reader, they can read the PDF basic version but someone who has the new software can open the rich document and keep all the rich interactions and meta data.
I have the passion and the energy but I also have a need for help. I need funds for professional coders to do some of the heavy lifting. I have already built Author, a word processor for macOS inspired by Doug Engelbart’s ‘Augment’, which will host the initial version the Liquid View. The team which produced Author will be able to continue work on the Liquid Views and all funding support will go exclusively to coding support.
Do you want to be a part of the future of text?
To make the deadline to demo something powerfully useful I need to raise $60,000 to pay for part time programming for one year, which is the time we have have until the 9th of December and of course more funds will allow for more programming.
For this reason I have put together a Kickstarter Campaign and I hope I can count on your support:
How will I ever repay your generosity? You will have my eternal gratitude, along with the gratitude of all future generations who will benefit from the work we will do together and you will be mentioned on the great event on the 9th of December 2018 as well as being credited in the software itself.
Additionally, I am producing a hard cover paper book to commemorate this endeavour, with interviews and transcripts as well as code in print for deep posterity, since digital still doesn’t beat paper for the long freeze (for the first edition only and please note that the signatures will be on a separate piece of paper, attached to the book after printing, since shipping the book around to the members of the steering committee will not be very practical...). You will be credited in full in this historic document and on the futureoftext.org website which already features 7 years of annual Future of Text Symposium records in the Journal.
Thank you for considering this and please tell me if you can think of anyone else who might be interested in being a part of this journey.
The Liquid Information Company