Log in

No account? Create an account
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
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.

Show media Loading...

  • 1
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?

You can declare victory as long as you do so from a WAP enabled phone in a GPRS only area via the graphical user interface here on LJ.

Sad to say, I could do so from a telnet session, but not from my phone.

Damn. It won't let me log in. I can post new entries by email from the phone, but I've never tried the actual mobile LJ interface. I've still only found a few things (notably fastmail's mail interface) which actually work on a simple phone, i.e. my little not-running-Windows-Mobile Motorola.

But you understand, I did have to try :)

collapses under the weight of video blogs and home-made pornography

Heh. I was wondering the other day whether anyone's given serious thought to a stream encoder which favours predominantly pink scenes, mostly static but with repetitive sections, and is particularly good at compressing audio with 70's wah-wah'd guitars...

I recall him talking about HTML and saying something like "Ordinary people will be able to use the internet!"

I said that ordinary people would never want to...

I've never been particularly prescient, but that comment was a low point even for me.


To be fair, I didn't envisage that the killer app of the web would be e-commerce, and thought that a combination of collaborative open library and social space would be more likely. Does this make me Web2.0 before my time?

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).

(Deleted comment)

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).

(Deleted comment)

The dumbing-down and dramatization of modern documentaries

is one of my (many) pet hates. Factual programmes do not need booming voiceovers. It's particularly notable in natural world stuff, despite the most famous and (I assume popular) examples being Attenborough's understated "here is an animal, here is some footage of the animal, here are some interesting facts about the animal" approach.

This penchant for the "EXTREEEME!" has a lot to answer for.

Re: The Golden Age of Television.

I concur. It's a crying shame that many of these documentaries aren't available, because many of them are superior to those which have followed them.

A case in point - the production team which made Hyperland made a documentary about virtual reality called Colonising Cyberspace. Michael Hordern narrated, and it had John Perry Barlow (of the EFF), Brenda Laurel, Jaron Lanier, Howard Rheingold and William Gibson as talking heads. Like its predecessor, it used the medium to describe itself (sort of). Intelligent stuff.

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.

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

VR: the technology that's always in your future. Thankfully.

That said, I always liked the coughing micons as a relatively subtle way of getting your attention by using existing human social cues.

Ted Nelson has a great rant about links-as-advertising (the link that demands that you click it) in response to the early ad banners, but that slightly misses the point. If you're in a Xanadu-like open hypertext world, which is effectively what Hyperland is, it's reasonable to expect that you can have several link anchors on the same text fragment. In this situation, it's easier to get the user to choose the desired link from those available, than to intuit the user's context and work out which link they want, so you need to give the user some way of working out which one they want.

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

I guess you got shown bits of it in Hypertext and Web Technologies, then?

and Intelligent Agents. Quite possibly even HCI. All the times I've seen it it's always been Tom's introduction and part of the customisation of him, and none of the actually useful parts demonstrating hypermedia and Tom actually doing agent-y things like finding relevant content. Usually even stopped short of the fish joke.

Presented as such, the words "Office Assistant" come to mind, which is probably why I've never considered that clip particularly good.

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...

at least it's _of me_ :)

Granted, but there are a lot of applications and interaction styles that you couldn't build if you didn't have non-textual inline content. There's also the question of causality; did the internet and computers become faster because webpages and applications got bigger, or does the growth in page and software size anticipate future improvements in the capabilities of the infrastructure. Discuss.

I'm playing devil's advocate though. We've (thankfully) got past the point where every website replaced <ul> with a series of coloured balls, which is a step forward, but the aesthetics of the web are still largely informed by those of print media. Even with CSS and XSLT, a lot of websites overuse inline images.

I remember this, very evocative. Good find.

(Deleted comment)
The link came up on del.icio.us a few days ago, so it's quite possible that someone bookmarked it after Jill posted.

  • 1