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Ubiquitous Software: An Information Network Paradigm

Chapter 5.
Writing Space

"This new medium is the fourth great technique of writing that will take its place beside the ancient papyrus roll, the medieval codex, and the printed book."
Jay David Bolter,
University of North Carolina

Information Networks are a new paradigm because they are collaborative. Writing Space is important to this thesis because it effectively demonstrates how hypertext and computer networks create a new collaboration between author and reader. I do not state that writing space is the only consequence of information networks, but as it applies to education industry, it is the most important. As a prototype writing space, the World Wide Web (Web) satisfies two of the six computer user interface (CUI) issues put forward by Hanafy Meleis(1) as required to ensure acceptance of information networks. They are: 1) the ability of document-centric software engineering to create intuitive and interoperable CUI; and 2) the potential of generic tools for the nonspecialist to author, present, and access multimedia information. With the introduction of the JavaOS into Web browsers, and soon as part of every major operating system, we begin to see one roll that Ubiquitous Software (U_S) can play. One goal of the U_S software engineering model is to construct authoring systems for use by nonspecialists in the writing spaces made possible by Information Networks. The following is a discussion of writing space and how a new space was created--how the rolls of traditional authors and computer programmers can merge.

Writing space is the physical and visual field defined by a particular technology of writing. The artifacts of a writing space are documents--papyrus rolls, codices, printed books. The goal of a writing space is communications. The ubiquitous technology of writing is pencil and paper.

The hypertext environment made possible by the World Wide Web is an example of a new writing space, "the fourth great technique of writing"(2) described by Jay Dave Bolter. The Web is built on networked computers, the goal is communications. The artifacts of the Web are hyperlinked electronic documents without fixed structure. "Browsers" of hypertext create the structure as they read--one can say that these documents can be written by the reader.

Figure C5.1:
Douglas Engelbart,
a man who sees the future

The principles of hypertext are traceable to a famous 1945 article by Vannervar Bush entitled "As We May Think." In the terminology of today's computer culture, Bush's essay was the first proposal of a hyper-linked writing environment. Ted Nelson coined the word hypertext in 1965, realizing the computer's capacity to create and manage textual networks for all kinks of writing. Douglas Engelbart developed NLS--the first use of digital computers to provide hypertext, e-mail and documentation sharing.(2) But it wasn't until the advent of personal computers that hypertext systems could be made available to a large audience of writers and readers. HTML became the first widely use page description language. The robustness of HTML gives authors of Web documents access to the kinds of tools used by computer software developers. Embedding Java "applets" in HTML provides a full-featured programming environment.

This is a writing space where distinctions between programmer and author begin to merge--where information and behavior are packaged and transported in one document. Hypertext shows how programming and conventional prose writing can combine in the space provided by a computer. From the perspective of literary theory, the whole of literature is considered to be a system of interconnected, intertextual writings. Concepts of linked texts were proposed independently of and long before the computer, but the computer has provided the technology needed to realize writing as a network. This writing space is the interactive interconnection of symbolic elements including computer programs. This is the relationship that U_S wants to exploit.

Printing is the final goal of many documents, but hypertext documents have no final goal. Application-centric word processing programs implement the older technology of print. Word processors present text using the nostalgic look and feel of the printing press. Static text on a page, once printed, looks just like any book or document produced during the last four centuries. The purpose of word processors is to type, edit and print. Printed hypertext documents lose all their essential attributes.

Being easily available to many people, being easily linked to many other documents allows each hypertext reader to program (write) a unique goal. The Web is a CUI that allows users to program. The ability to use links and catalogs of links lets the user control the procedure of reading. The electronic documents of the Web are the first texts in which "the elements of meaning, of structure, and of visual display are, by design, fundamentally unstable." Each reader of these linked texts can dynamically create unique structure.

In this new writing space, the value of their words can be based on who has access, how many have accessed, and how often. Many authors and most programmers are compensated for the act of writing words. When newspaper, magazines, radio and TV shows, even books are used to contain words they have a short useful life. When hyperlinked electronic documents are used to contain words, not only do they have an extended life, but they are easier to find, easier to access, and available to a much larger audience. This may change how and when words are valued. Authors can be compensated when their words are used, not when they are written.

The computer network is the first machine of the information age. The printing press of the fifteenth century is the first machine of the industrial age. The printing press and computer network can both be seen as producing containers for knowledge. Both are controlled, programmed by authors. The book can be used as an abstraction that represents both machines. The printing press produces a static book, the computer produces a dynamic book. Both books are knowledge containers used by authors to publish their words.

Digital libraries and electronic books will be key elements of information networks--key attributes are openness and ease of access. Printed books use libraries in the same way that computer books use networks. Libraries pool output of printing presses. Digital libraries pool output of computers. The Internet proves that a pervasive computer network is possible. The ease of access of the Web makes a pervasive computer network desirable. Like libraries, computer networks are more useful only if they are open to everyone, and the Internet is the first open network.

Printed books promote the traditional views of author as authority and literature as monument. Publishers of printed books are multi-national corporate giants available only to a tiny minority of want-to-be authors. Computers as word processors begin to break down this paradigm of few privileged publishers needing massive numbers of subscribers to succeed. Today, software publishers are multi-national corporate giants available only to a tiny minority of want-to-be programmer authors. Computers are now consumer products, but access to software publishing is about the same as access to print publishing.

Another attribute of an electronic Writing Space is the ability to index and analyze documents. Searching large indexes is proving to be very useful. A problem is current search engines generally cannot take into account usefulness or quality of documents. Much work needs to be done to take better advantage of machine-analyzed documents. One interesting idea would analyse not only content, but people's interaction with the content. These kind of tools are described as agents (mobile programs), that travel networks and act on behalf of their user. Agents are not well deployed yet, but will become part of a U_S paradigm.

Lifelong learners in the Information Age require tools unlike the general purpose PCs. These "Information Appliances" obtain services without concern for details. Like the telephone and television of the industrial age, Information Appliances need to pervade our lives, and so will needed software. Like pencil and paper, these devices need to be usable by everyone. Unlike pencil and paper, Information Appliances come with communications built-in. This is the paradigm of U_S. User configerable document-centric, component software distributed over a pervasive network.

With worldwide access to the Internet, with search engines, and links to thousands of electronic libraries--everyone is potentially an author and publisher. This new writing space provides another framework for communicating--a new paradigm. Readers are writers, authors are programmers.

This writing space is document-centric and component based, available over a pervasive network. Because an Information Network paradigm is many to many technology, it has the potential to become a ubiquitous technology. Like pencil and paper, Ubiquitous Software can become a writing technology--an Information Network Paradigm.

An Information Network Writing Space

Definition: Writing space is the physical and visual field defined by a particular technology of writing. The artifacts of a writing space are documents, which require tools and skill to produce.

Model: Physical field is networked computers, the visual field is hyperlinked electronic documents of HD, the tools are software for authoring and browsing.

Requirements: Enable information networks by:

  • Document based CUI for browsing.
  • HD with intelligence needed to display itself across multiple architectures and to support editing.
  • Generic authoring tools to allow domain experts to program document behavior and contexts.
  • Users are able to obtain services without concern for complexity of underling network, location of information sources, or other participants.
  • Prototype: the World Wide Web.

    1. Meleis, Hanafy, Toward the Information Network, COMPUTER, IEEE Computer Society, Volume 29, Number 10, October 1996, p59
    Annotation: Anniversary Issue, 50 Years of Computing

    2. Bolter, Jay David, Writing Space, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1991.
    Annotation: This book provides an excellent 'History of Writing' and a convincing proof that HyperText and the computer represent a new 'Writing Space'.

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