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Making links

Some years ago, back when I was in sixth form and trying to decide what I wanted to study at University, the BBC broadcast a Horizon documentary on novel interfaces for computers, which was presented by Douglas Adams and Tom Baker. The documentary presented a future information system in which you could follow links between documents, images and videos, with software "agents" that helped you find things. More than anything else, it was a novel documentary by itself; how better to show what a new information system might be like, than to film the documentary as if it were being presented by that information system.

The memory of this documentary, Hyperland, stayed with me, and was one of the reasons why I decided to read computer science rather than electronics (this book and this book were the other reasons). Moving forward a few years, I first came across the Web in the autumn of 1993, with the release of the Mosaic browser (I can still remember various of my contemporaries, possibly including evildespot and perdita_fysh, telling me that the Web wouldn't come to anything).

The early Web was quite exhilarating, but it still didn't live up to the promise of Hyperland. I graduated and moved to Cambridge. As I got more disillusioned with my employer (a certain large Scandinavian mobile telecoms company that isn't Ericsson), I spent more time reading academic papers on the subject of hypertext and agents. In order to get a better grounding in AI, I studied for my Masters in Edinburgh. After that, I looked around for PhD places, and found that the University of Southampton was the place to go in the UK if you wanted to do research on hypertext.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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I remember that bit. You were web-boy, full of the glories of the new technology of HTTP. I thought it was a truly horrendous waste of bandwidth that couldn't ever possibly suceed because those links which happily sustained rooms full of us on command line would collapse in minutes if more than a couple decided to start ferrying that amount of data around all the time. How could it ever possibly survive?

Can I now declare victory, or will you insist on waiting for a few more years to see if the Web collapses under the weight of video blogs and home-made pornography?

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
Wow, it's funny how the power or television works. And it's interesting to know a bit more about you. It's so funny to think that you and I grew up sort of in the same place...

Indeed. It really was a life-changing documentary, and I've gone on to meet and work with some of the people that were in it.

Tom Baker was the first thing I thought of when the librarian was introduced in Snow Crash.

Oddly enough, I didn't. I suspect that's because I've met enough middle-aged academic librarians to have a good idea of the stereotype that Stephenson was playing to (and which Tom Baker, as Tom the Software Agent, doesn't fit).

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Re: The Golden Age of Television.

The World At War is available on DVD. I watched it through about a year back. Fantastic stuff, and avoids many of the failings of modern documentaries (constant repetition and padding with snazzy graphics being the chief among them).

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Whoa. I've not seen the full version of this.

"Also in tonight's programme: the greenhouse effect really starts to bite."
Ouch. That would be funny if it weren't so tragic. (Unfortunately, Flash has gone horribly out of sync, so I'll have to wait for the AVI version to download to see the rest.)

Re: Whoa. I've not seen the full version of this.

Wurgh. It started well, but I'm glad that last year's state of the art wasn't sitting in my living room with VR googles and a neon glove on, surrounded by glowing, geometric shapes.

TRON-esque visages do not good navigation interfaces make, IMO. The coughing micons interrupting each other at the Multimedia Lab part was bad enough---one of the great things about dumb, blue, underlined text is that it just sits there and shows that further contextual information exists, without trying to grab your attention.

I hope I'm not being revisionist in saying that my complaint about it was when they added inline graphics, and like perdita, I said this would generate a huge waste of otherwise useful bandwidth. I stand by that, but in much the same way that Windows being a huge waste of CPU power has given us all supercomputers, the web has given us a super-internet which you means you can do the "useful" things even better than before. It's also become very useful itself, in parts. I don't think I ever said it would come to nothing, I think I said that it would be better if it did. I withdraw that now, because although it has caused lots of government interferance in Internet issues, popularisation of the Internet has been good for it, and for me. As I said, I hope I'm not trying to rewrite history, there, just because it would be a bit embarrassing :)

... says he, in the form of text with an inline image...

I remember this, very evocative. Good find.

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The link came up on a few days ago, so it's quite possible that someone bookmarked it after Jill posted.

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