Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, May 3, 2018

the garden and the stream

I just came across this fascinating 2015 talk by Mike Caulfield and want to call attention to a couple of elements of it. 

1) the garden/stream distinction: 

The Garden is the web as topology. The web as space. It’s the integrative web, the iterative web, the web as an arrangement and rearrangement of things to one another.

Things in the Garden don’t collapse to a single set of relations or canonical sequence, and that’s part of what we mean when we say “the web as topology” or the “web as space”. Every walk through the garden creates new paths, new meanings, and when we add things to the garden we add them in a way that allows many future, unpredicted relationships….

In the stream metaphor you don’t experience the Stream by walking around it and looking at it, or following it to its end. You jump in and let it flow past. You feel the force of it hit you as things float by.

It’s not that you are passive in the Stream. You can be active. But your actions in there — your blog posts, @ mentions, forum comments — exist in a context that is collapsed down to a simple timeline of events that together form a narrative.

In other words, the Stream replaces topology with serialization. Rather than imagine a timeless world of connection and multiple paths, the Stream presents us with a single, time ordered path with our experience (and only our experience) at the center.

2) The difference between the Memex and the World Wide Web: 

So most people say this is the original vision of the web. And certainly it was the inspiration of those pioneers of hypertext.

But in reality it doesn’t predict the web at all. Not at all. The web works very little like this. It’s weird, because in our minds the web still works like this, but it’s a fiction.

Let’s look at some of the attributes of the memex.

Your machine is a library not a publication device. You have copies of documents is there that you control directly, that you can annotate, change, add links to, summarize, and this is because the memex is a tool to think with, not a tool to publish with.

And this is crucial to our talk here, because these abilities – to link, annotate, change, summarize, copy, and share — these are the verbs of gardening.

Each memex library contains your original materials and the materials of others. There’s no read-only version of the memex, because that would be silly. Anything you read you can link and annotate. Not reply to, mind you. Change. This will be important later.

Links are associative. This is a huge deal. Links are there not only as a quick way to get to source material. They aren’t a way to say, hey here’s the interesting thing of the day. They remind you of the questions you need to ask, of the connections that aren’t immediately evident.

Links are made by readers as well as writers. A stunning thing that we forget, but the link here is not part of the author’s intent, but of the reader’s analysis. The majority of links in the memex are made by readers, not writers. On the world wide web of course, only an author gets to determine links. And links inside the document say that there can only be one set of associations for the document, at least going forward.

“A tool to think with, not a tool to publish with” — this seems to me essential. I feel that I spend a lot of time trying to think with tools meant for publishing. 


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