January 21, 2006
Augmenting Thoughts

Leonard Lin has a nice post (and picture) about a recent Doug Engelbart presentation on Large Scale Collective IQ. This was the second of a two parter on the topic (the first part has a video available, hopefully the same will be come about for those of us in geographies which have fewer engagement opportunities like Future Salon).

Within his post, Leonard discusses a number of topics (including his proposition that the disaggregated environment we have in the web may have many of the properties of the AUGMENT system). He also muses a bit on the repeated topic - if these tools are so powerful, why have they not been more widely spread? Where is the code for AUGMENT which Doug has been able to use for 40 years, but few others have, and why hasn't it been duplicated?

I've wondered the same myself (and judging Leonard's recent MyWeb2.0 links, he's on the tip still). My understanding is that the AUGMENT system got wrapped up by Tymshare and then McDonnell Douglas/Boeing (flipping through the coda, this is discussed in Tools for Thought, and by the discussion of source code progress at the Computer History Museum). So again, some historical pieces of experimentation have become locked in archives, largely forgotten by their owners.

There are some experiments to duplicate or grow upon the work directly. There's a paper and website for an Open Augment being developed in concert with the Bootstrap Institute for example (which looks static at 2003, from their website). And there's ongoing discussion within the BlueOxen communities (particularly in the mailing archives - the last two weeks have suddenly been quite active).

There's a lot of creative tension inherent in Leonard's post, the struggle to learn from systems by replicating and replacing them at the same time. Current implementors need to be able to easily see the design and implementation in order to learn how to reimplement with the same power, which is difficult when the project is shrouded. Engelbart has been broadcasting the benefits, theories and design, which has certainly kept it alive and relatively unshrouded.

A secondary problem occurs to me, however. It seems that systems like this depend on historical state being available. Historically this would have worked in a centralized manner - a corporation or institution would own the system and its contents, and be beholden to maintain that state. On an individual basis, how can we duplicate that? How can we, with our 10 year history of web services plan to challenge the long term?

Technorati Tags: ,

Posted by esinclai at January 21, 2006 10:29 AM |

You bring up some interesting points, I'll probably be writing some more followup (time-willing) as the Future Salon event has definitely fired of some tangential/metacognitive threads that relate to the things you bring up.

Coming from an academic background, and having spent a lot of time going through pre-web hypertext systems and research, I've taken some of this familiarity for granted, but there's definitely a lot of reinvention specifically because of a communication breakdown between research, academia, and industry. As an example, Tim Bray, inventor of XML, had never heard of Purple Numbers before 2004.

However, this example also I think helps to illustrate where we are with regard to Engelbarts DKRs/NICs. The fact is that Tim found out about Purple Numbers through the web (about the time that various purple hacks were floating around I believe). The array of tools, in this specific case: wikis, blogs, feed readers, crawlers, notification services, search engines, social bookmarking has had a *huge* impact on the ability for that people to be able to consume, digest, and process ginormous amounts of information while still being productive.

Granted my view on this swings back and forth on, but from where I'm sitting right now, I'm feeling less worried of future shock or information overload, because I see the sum total of services and innovations that interact with each other (the real core of Web 2.0) outpacing the increasing data complexity.

Posted by: Leonard Lin on January 21, 2006 09:40 PM
Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember info?