All posts by Lloyd Davis

Ted Nelson – Where technology gets it wrong.

The structure of documents and the difficulty of representing them in computing. How can electronic documents improve on paper, rather than how simply to imitate it.

The History of computing – three dumb downs and a betrayal, Fire in the Valley, Freiburger especially the last chapter (Citizen Nelson)

The betrayal of Personal Computing – should make things easier and keep track of your stuff. All built on the model of operating systems distilling the 1960s into the unix system with a hierarchical system of files – the simulation of hierarchy and the simulation of paper. Computer systems are hierarchical because techies think it should be. The idea that they’re that way intrinsically is a lie. The challenge is taking how the real universe – Parallel interpenetrating structures and representing it through computing.

Computing is a Rorsach test – peoples descriptions of what computers are tells you much about them and people have also created them in their own image.

GUI => PUI – the PARC User Interface is more than an interface it’s a cosmology. A vertical desktop, the wastebasket, clipboard (the vilest thing on the face of the earth), folders and icons.

WYSIWYG is just a way of selling paper.

Meanwhile Ted was working on links behind text and the back button. Then the Xanadu project (not the bit where they got funding…until 1992) Every quotation should be connected to its original source. You can’t do that on the WWW because it comes from the hierarchy and lump file and the imitation of paper.

Ted shows sends an EDL (an edit decision list) ie a bunch of links to the original stuff – go look it up and use it..

Implications – Copyright -> transcopyright you get the right as long as everything is linked back to it’s original source.

Techies say – this is new. Ted says no this isn’t new we’ve had it before it’s called literature.

Nothing I believe in can be done on the web – the next step is transliterature – an entirely new structure. We need something like software X but simpler – as that catches on, it actually gets more ponderous and complex. Hofstadters law – everything takes longer than you think even when you take into account Hostadters law.

We want you to be able to create flying comments on any document. Thousands of comments should be possible. A collaborative system where everyones contribution is clear and rewarded. Pullacross editing. Is it possible? Of course, but it’s not possible within the constraints of the PUI. We should be able to fly documents in 3D space with all the links being shown – the problem then is aggregating and understanding them.

So we have a document structure that is content and clinks – the multitrack view of a document.

Terry Pratchett talks about octarine – can you visualis a completely new colour?

What Ted does for fun. Why are databases rectangular? Theodore Codd at IBM thought it had mathematical properties that would be useful, but under pressure he quit and SQL was a hasty mopping up which got mangled by people trying to make it work. Dirty secret 1 – it may take 10 years to merge two corporate databases. Dirty secret 2 – you have to stop it to modify a field. So Ted’s created ZigZag a multidimensional data structure.

Information is not rectangular though you might wish to give it rectangular properties. Interconnected cells – example the royal families of europe. Take hierarchical structure Dimension 1 is name, Dimension 2 is Title Dimension 3 – marriage Dimension 4 children etc etc etc. The assignment of dimensions is of course not trivial.

Floating world – the commercial version of ZigZag under the transliterature model.

Q: do you see a problem with spam – Yes of course because whatever you do gets gamed.

Q: Issue of binary and handling ambiguity – not to do with binary, it’s about how you come to tolerate ambiguity. What makes the web complicated, standardisation of browser. Acknowledge them not supress them.

Q: to what extent can we separate content and presentation? Imagine that you’re a movie producer going through scripts – no presentation at all except the descriptions within. But the producers are able to see through the script into the movie. You want both – the transliterature view we saw is without presentation but you can put all of this on top.

Q: Are there different types of Clinks? Yes and you can invent your own – it’s just a type and pointer (from: and to:)

Q: Realtime creation from the script – plus re-editing of Star Wars “just for fun” how does this fit with transcopyright and transliterature. They can sell snippets and get new ways in. Record industry allegedly seeing the benefit from this? IP law isn’t going away, Ted is trying to create something honest and within the law that doesn’t violate anything and reusable without negotiation.

Q: what happens to broken links. We promise not to – and there’s no need to because you always leave the original there.

Q: doesn’t it kill differential pricing? Yes, but we don’t have a payments system yet so maybe it will get fixed. The price is attached to it.

Hive Networks – Alexei Blinov

Hive NetworksAt the Science Museum’s Danacentre (nice space)for the Future Wireless event by Cybersalon & OpenSpectrumUK listening to Alexei Blinov and James Stevens talking about Hive Networks putting together a DIY infrastructure – an open backbone (sounds painful)

According to the Hive Networks wiki “Hive Networks” is a cross-disciplinary research and development project into embedded devices and ubiquitous networked computing, defined as ‘multi-faceted transformative devices’ – tools that enable users to manage space, time and the boundaries around the self in new and previously unthinkable ways

So Alexei is now talking about getting ordinary people connected, almost without them knowing, like his mother listening to the radio in the kitchen.

One of his favourite devices is this one which I’d love to understand better, but I’ve got to leave for lunch!

Each device is supposed to run a particular function, to provide a particular service on the network. This box runs lots of services. Trying to weave a network around human behaviour rather than making humans change to interact with the network. Errrr go read the wiki.

“After” The E Word at Channel 4

In the Channel 4 BarThis is the last of three podcasts I’ve produced associated with The Policy Unplugged event at Channel 4 last week, The E Word. Fifty or so thinkers in education – without many of the usual Whitehall suspects gathered to talk about the state of education policy in the UK, to see where there was common ground and explore their differences. I was there as a host with special responsibility to help record the day and capture the essence of the conversations.

With a hard afternoon’s talking behind them, the guests repaired to the bar for….more talking (and some drinking) Again, I mingled among them to find out what they had thought of the day. And they told me. This was right at the beginning mind, goodness knows what they were saying when they’d had a few more sugar-free Red Bulls.

After The E Word (25:30 mins – 11.6MB)

Photos for the event are in this photoset

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Rough video of smooth people

To make up somewhat for the dismal showing so far today (see below on The Secret Agent) I give you a very scrunched up version of all the video I shot on Saturday at Podcastcon UK.

See if you can spot among the audience: Alex Bellinger, Nicole Simon, Rachel Clarke, Kosso, Jo Twist, Ben Metcalfe, Hugo Schotmann.

And now that I’ve seen how to embed video (even if I can’t get it to work yet), here’s a surplus picture of Alex for his many adoring fans:
Alex Bellinger

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The Normal Business Person’s Guide to Blogs, Wikis & RSS


  • “I have too much to read – I can’t keep up”
  • “E-mail has stopped being productive for me, but I don’t know what else to do”
  • “Communication’s really bad around here, nobody knows what’s going on.”
  • “Oh God, I didn’t know we had a project team working on that.”
  • “Advertising just seems to have stopped working for us”

You’re not alone. These are some of the things that made me tear my hair out as a manager (in the end I just had to shave it all off to stop myself doing it) – and these problems seem insoluble – worse than that, everything you do just seems to make it worse.

Geeks to the rescue!

Luckily, some very clever people with rather variable social skills have created a bunch of tools that seem to deal with these problems very well (Hey, you’re reading one now!). What’s more they’ve made them pretty much freely available – all you have to do is know what you want to do and work out how best to do it.

If you’ve been reading the right papers, you’ll have heard of blogging some time ago – what you may not realise is that blogs can be more than a teen-angst diary or a place to add more hilarious pictures of your cat – they are also a business tool that can be applied to marketing and communications, project management and improving the productivity of individuals and teams.

You might even have heard of a mysterious relation of blogs – RSS. Really Simple Syndication is increasingly being used to help people both focus their own reading, but also reach their audience much more effectively. RSS is also spawning a new generation of search engines that can help you find the very latest web-based information while also letting new readers find your stuff much more easily.

Those who really should get out more will have heard the word Wiki. A wiki is a very simple website that anyone (yes anyone) can edit – they are very useful for collaboration, helping people who may be geographically separate to work up ideas, create and edit documents and to organise events. Take a look at my wiki if you like

These tools together can boost your productivity enormously whether you choose to use them over the internet or within your corporate network, but if you’re not a geek and you don’t know any geeks (or perhaps you’d just like to keep your geek-related activity quiet)how can you relieve some of the frustrations of coprorate life? What could your organisation do with them? What are others in your industry doing with them? Just how do you get started?

“The Normal Business Person’s Guide to Blogging, Wikis and RSS” is a one-day workshop that I’m offering now to help people look at these issues and work out how they can benefit.

Who should attend?

There are three key criteria:
Are you a person? Good, ‘cos there’s no cats allowed.

Do you do business? OK so the definition of business is pretty wide here – I work with lots of public-sector people who do lots of “business”.

Now here’s the clincher… are you normal? I think this pretty much comes down to “Do you need to communicate better with people inside and outside of your organisation? Do you want to serve your customers better? Must you have value for money?” If you’re shouting Yes! Yes! Yes! then you’re normal enough to attend the workshop.

What’s in it for you?

If you attend, you will come away with a better understanding of:

  • What these tools are and what they can do.
  • How the tools are being used already by your customers, suppliers or competitors.
  • The risks of not adopting these tools.

You will also see:

  • How ridiculously easy it is to start and maintain a blog.
  • How blogs encourage conversations that can turn prospects into customers.
  • How a wiki can be used to jointly create something useful.
  • How RSS can speed up information flows while improving how well that information is targeted.

Finally you will have the opportunity to talk about how best you could use these technologies to improve customer relations, internal communications and (if that’s the bag you’re into) sell more stuff!

The workshop is best suited to a small group of people (6-8), in a single organisation, or who otherwise have to work together. Contact me in the usual way (lloyd AT perfectpath DOT co DOT uk) to set up a day’s session for your team.

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Geeking & Eating

London continues to welcome a stream of geek-beloved names. This Friday, 22nd July, Lee Wilkins has organised a special night with Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo! [ sign up in the comments to Lee’s post on ]

Lee sez: “Venue is the luxurious Bar Blanca, 3/4 Sherwood Street, London W1 [map]. We have hired out the whole bar! As with previous Geek Dinners [last 2] £20 will be payable on the door to cover cost of food.”

Jeremy’s here for the feverish geek excitement that is OpenTech 2005 which takes place on the following day.

Be there, or be quietly sniggered at in binary, hex and l33t.

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Public Service Conversations Caf&#233

I’ve just posted this over at Public Service Conversations:

I’m really pleased and excited to be able to announce that the Public Service Conversations café sessions are going to begin at the end of May.

Sessions will be held every other Wednesday at 10.30am and last for an hour and a half. The venues will vary, but at least for now they will be within Central London. Each session will have a maximum of 8 participants but there are no other requirements on you – to be able to attend you need only have an interest in public services in the UK and have a willingness to participate in a conversation with people who are similarly inclined.

The conversation in the session will be recorded (audio-only, no need for extra make-up) and a copy of the recording will be made available for download here (but if everyone waits to see what the recording is like before booking a place, then no-one will come to the first session!) Coffee, Tea and Water will be served.

The first session is on Wednesday 25th May 2005. If you’d like to come along, please send an e-mail to or leave a comment here and someone will get in touch with you. These sessions are available at a special introductory price of £75 + VAT (payment is possible by cheque or by invoice).

We are also taking bookings for four more Wednesday sessions during June and July:

8th June
22nd June
6th July
20th July

We’ll deal with August when we come to it!

The venue for the first session is yet to be fully confirmed but is likely to be in London W1 or SW1. As soon as details are available, they’ll be publicised on this site.

Remember places are strictly limited so book soon to make sure you’re part of the conversation.

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