Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Travelling to Bergen - a metapragmatic digression with semantic underpinnings

In this blog everything is a subject, - remember? And as a Topic Mapper I sometimes get some weird associations that need more than one sentence explaining. Everything is about context, and semantics often needs some context to be understood (ref pragmatics).

When writing another blogpost I desperately wanted to digress a little and tell some stories related to the city of Bergen.

If you ever go to Bergen I can recommend listening to Michael Jackson.

Be sure to sample the fantastic variety of local beer. You can safely leave out the most popular beer, which tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike good beer. (You have probably tasted something very similar in most other cities you have visited, - that is if you like beer. I mean if you really like beer it's another story, but you would probably start to see where I am going with this.)

When we're talking about local beer, Brussels is definitely worth a trip, especially if you find yourself in Bergen. The Cantillon brewery beer museum there is one of the few places in the universe where they still believe in spontaneous fermentation. This is also a good reason that it's improbable that the museum will ever relocate or that the top floor will be redecorated. The mash is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. This is the historic way of making beers, and all the beer in the world before 1800 was really lambic. (Be aware that Brussels and Belgium have more beer museums. Some people joke that Belgium has more beer types than people).

It is however not trivial to find your way there, and that's one of the reasons for this blogpost. Now when I think about it, The way I have started It's probably better to describe the journey the other way, - from Brussels to Bergen.

The best way to travel from Brussels to Bergen is by car (you will miss all the fun by going on the train). From the centre you start following E19 southwest. Then after a while you will see highway signs for 'Bergen'. Then after a while there are suddenly no more signs for 'Bergen'. - You have entered the french-speaking part of Belgium, the province of Hainaut, of which Mons is the capital. The city got it's name because it was located on a hill, and in Belgium any hill is large, so they decided to call it a mountain (context again I suppose). Mons is latin for Mountain.

Mons is the location of the museum where Paul Otlets Mundaneum is kept. After listening to Alex Wrights keynote at Topic Maps 2008 I have an excuse for going back to Mons, - apart from the beer of course. Which reiminds me of what Michael Jackson has to say on the subject. Bergen is also a very nice city however, so there's several good reasons for going there.

Calling the hills of Mons for mountains is however to strech it too far, - it's actually an insult to Bergen. (I won't even mention the fjords which makes quite a difference).

The fun part of this is looking up some webpages for the city of Bergen where you get all kinds of offers for traveling to and staying in hotels in Bergen.

Information History and Early Visions of the Web

I had the pleasure of listening to the starting keynote of the Topic Maps 2008 conference:

Hierarchies, Networks, and the Web that Wasn't
by Alex Wright

I think the keynote was fantastic, giving us some perspective and food for thought discussing the history leading up to hypertext and the World Wide Web. 

He talked about visions of hypertext pioneers (and earlier ideas) that predated the web. In the end he summed up some of the fantastic features that didn't make it into the web, like typed links and multi-directional links. Features we actually can use in a topic map. He also cited Ted Nelson saying "The Web isn't hypertext, it's decorated directories!"

David Weinberger continued this discussion in his own keynote the day after, and argued that one of the reasons the web succeeded was precisely that it left out these complex features. David is a marketing guy (and philosopher among other things) and I think he is right. The web succeeded because it was simplistic. Easy to understand and easy for anybody to just start using. (Which Implications might this have for the Topic Maps standards?)

I think both Wright and Weinberger have a point. Weinbergers perspective is that the "center of the web should be empty",  but he also says that the web is extendable. I think it's possible that we will get closer to Ted Nelsons visions, but probably not all the way.

One highlight of the presentation was about The Mother of All Demos:

On December 9, 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart and the group of 17 researchers working with him in the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, presented a 90-minute live public demonstration of the online system, NLS, they had been working on since 1962. The public presentation was a session in the of the Fall Joint Computer Conference held at the Convention Center in San Francisco, and it was attended by about 1,000 computer professionals. This was the public debut of the computer mouse. But the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface [1].

This demo in december 1968 and the moon landing in july 1969. - Must have been quite a year!

Another highlight of the keynote was the story of Paul Otlet, an almost forgotten Belgian forefather of the web. He somehow managed to get funding from the Belgian government and set off to build something resembling an analog web in the 1920s. According to the Wikipedia article his Permanent Encyclopedia grew from 400,000 entries in 1895 to over 15 million in 1934. The museum hosting his collection is located in the city of Mons, in Belgium. (I have actually been there. Good beer! - And this gives me some strange and digressing associations, that I spin off in another blogpost).

I can really recommend his book too. Glut - Mastering Information Through The Ages

Through the ages is an understatement. - Alex Wright goes way back:

The information age started not with microchips or movable type, but with the first flowering of complex life. To approach the the history of information systems from a purely human-centered perspective is to overlook the lessons of billions of years' worth of evolutionary history. Just as our brains carry around some very old reptilian equipment, so our collective strategies for managing information bear the traces of patterns that took shape a long time ago.

He then goes on to discuss the transformation from singe cell organisms to the first multicellular organisms.

You can read his Boxes and Arrows article The Sociobiology of Information Architecture as a good sample.

This is only the first chapter of 12, where chapter 11 is The Web That Wasn't.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

First post

Some people have asked me over the years why I didn't have a blog. My response have been that with all the blogs out there, I didn't believe that anybody would bother to read my blogposts. - Too much competition.

Another issue has been that  I didn't want to commit to writing regularly. At certain periods I will be busy with other things to do, be away on a long holiday, or have lost interest.

Feed aggregation and semantic blogging has changed all that.

Nowadays a good blog have a lot of comments on interesting published articles, websites, music, video and other blogposts. A reference is both a vote and a help for others to find interesting content. 

It's also more about having a conversation, a debate, - communication.

I found myself leaving comments on peoples blogsposts quite often, and found that the whole blogging concept is built around links as references, pointers and votes. The links are weaving the blogs together and add a lot of context. The blogging world have actually implemented two-way linking with backlinks, which I think is is one of the important features missing from the earlier web.

So this is it, I'll have a go, - hope you'll enjoy!