The Next Document System

At this post I want to imagine some aspects of a desirable future computer-assisted environment for reading and writing, following the inspiring blog post „the ultimate knowledge environment” by Frode Hegland.

Classic documents are the first step. Each classic document is an isolated static text that must be consumed by the reader as it was written by the author. The future document system is a text database that can be consumed by the reader in a variety of selections, combinations and presentation modes between which the reader can switch in real time at will. The larger the text database the better. The best would be a single world-wide (most-of-?)all-embracing text database.

Documents are richly connected, as a whole as well as paragraph-, sentence- or word-wise. The connections can be set by the author or by readers, at once or retroactively over the years (and centuries). The system maintains the reciprocal connections automatically (all items that link to the current one). The connections are themselves again documents and have, as any other document, an author, a publisher, a publishing date and other describing meta-data. Thus the connections can be filtered according to these criteria. For example, when reading an original document I can select which type of connected documents I want to be aware of, say from a particular author or group („my acquaintances”, „great philosophers”, „seasoned statesmen”), or from a particular publisher or type of publisher (academic, journalism, specialist, self-published), or those appeared in a selected time range („present”, „17th century”, „contemporary to the respective reference document”). The user interface can show connected documents in many ways, the user can optionally get the related passages for example as footnotes, superimposed on mouse hover, in separate columns, or in a 3D view with coloured transclusions such as in Xanadu. The user can change the view at any time.

The future document system includes a lexical subsystem („a dictionary”). Each word can be looked up to obtain information about it (meaning, grammar, morphology, spelling, pronunciation, lexical and semantic field, usage, translations), both in general as well as in the particular context. From each word one has immediate access to every document that uses it, too. All lexical information is exposed by regular documents in the document system and can be filtered, queried and presented using the system's regular configuration capabilities.

The future document system includes a reflexive subsystem that consists of documents that evaluate, rank, contrast, summarise and integrate other documents. It represents a sort of digestive system that assists the reader in exploiting the huge amount of available material.

A particular kind of relationship between documents that is part of the reflexive subsystem is the version. A document is called a version of another document if it reproduces the whole original document. For example, a versioned document can be an original french document translated into English, an original scientific article or legal text expressed in common language, or an old book printed with current orthography or vocabulary. When I am reading news about a political agreement between countries, I can jump to its wording. As layman I don't understand it very much, so I change to a simplified version and I choose the one made by a particular journal I like that is shortened to be read in five minutes. When I have a question about a particular point, I can fade in the original sentence or other versions.

Also part of the reflexive subsystem is a „trust profile”. I can record how much I trust particular authors or publishers I come across and store this in a profile. Later on, I can filter the views to include just the ones I trust most, or to show these at the first position. Trust profiles can be chained transitively, so that the system can infer trust from my trusted sources. A trust profile can be published as document and thus be used by others, commented, enhanced, versioned etc. I am of course not restricted to a single trust profile for me. I can manage more than one of them („private”, „job”, „hobby”). When reading, I can select which trust profiles to apply (of mine, publicly available or shared with me by acquaintances) and switch in real time.

These were just some points for a brainstorming towards a future document system.

Siehe die Diskussion über diesen Beitrag.