Ted Nelson, "A File Structure for the Complex, The Changing and the Indeterminate"
Laying out the problem — also work of literary criticism, in that he is attempting to define the PROCESS of writing
“Many writers and research professionals have files or collections of notes which are tied to manuscripts in progress. Indeed, often personal files shade into manuscripts, and the assembly of textual notes BECOMES the writing of text without a sharp break.” (85)
"I knew from my own experiment what can be done for these purposes with card file, notebook, index tabs, edge-punching, file folders, scissors and paste, graphic boards, index-strip frames, Xerox machine and the roll-top desk. My in- tent was not merely to computerize these tasks but to think out (and eventually program) the dream file: the file system that would have every feature a novelist or absent-minded professor could want, holding everything he wanted in just the complicated way he wanted it held, and handling notes and manuscripts in as subtle and complex ways as he wanted them handled.”
Hindering progress: Cost — small computer with video-type display now costs $37k, over time could cost “less than a secretary” Sense of need Design
"Despite chang- ing economies, it is fashionably believed that computers are possessed only by huge organizations to be used only for vast corporate tasks or intricate scientific calculations. As long as people think that, machines will be brutes and not friends, bureaucrats and not helpmates.”
“To design and evaluate systems for writing, we need to know what the process of writing IS.” (87)
3 fals/inadequate theories of “how writing is properly done” Writing is a matter of inspiration Writing is just a matter of sitting down and doing it All you really need is a good outline
But writing is much more complex process, involving revision, etc.
Designed his system for two purposes, personal filing and manuscript assembly Supply up-to-date index of its own contents Accept “large and growing bodies of text and commentary” “No hierarchical file relations” “The system would hold any shape imposed on it” “File texts in any form and arrangement desired” — “combining, at will, the functions of the card file, loose-leaf notebook, and so on” ‘Unlimited number of categories” Hold both file entries and commentaries/ explanations "connected with them” Able to hold several different versions of the same sets of materials
"Three particular features, then, would be specially adapted to useful change. The system would be able to sustain changers in the bulk and block arrangements of its contents. It would permit dynamic outlining. And it would permit the spin- off of many different drafts, either successors or variants, all to remainwithin the file for comparison or use as long as ~needed. These features we may call evolutionary."
ELF: Evolutionary File Structure
Shouldn’t impose a method of use — needs “a very simple structure that can be used and compounded in many different ways” — e.g. “zippered lists”
Two lists, linking across each other
“The ELF may be thought of as a PLACE; not a machine, but a piece of stationery or office equipment with many little locations which may be rearranged with regard to one another” (91)
Important to Nelson that there is no “correct” way to use the system (92)
"The ELF may be an aid to the mind in creative tasks, allowing the user to com- pare arrangements and alternatives with some prior ideal. This is helpful in planning nonlinear assemblages (museum exhibits, casting for a play,) or linear con- structions of any kind. Such linear constructions include not only written texts; they can be any complicated sequences of things, such as motion pictures (in the editing stage) and computer programs.” (93)
"The physical universe is not all that decays. So do abstractions and cate- gories. Human ideas, science, scholarship and language are constantly collapsing and unfolding. Any field, and the corpus of all fields, is a bundle of relation- ships subject to all kinds of twists, inversions, involutions and rearrangement: these changes are frequent but unpredictable. Recall that computers, once a branch of mathematics, are now their own field (but the development of fluid logic indi- cates a possible merger with the art of wind instruments). Social relations, psy- cholinguistics and psychonomics are new fields, even though they rest on no special discoveries; political economy, natural history and social ethics are gone. Within a given area, too, the subheadings of importance are in constant flux. In the so- cial sciences, for instance, the topic headings of the nineteen-thirties now sound quaint." (96-7)
"To the extent that information retrieval is concerned with seeking true or ideal or permanent codes and categories-- and even the most sophisticated "role indicator" syntaxes are a form of this endeavor-- to this extent, information retrieval seems to me to be fundamentally mistaken. The categories are chimerical (or temporal) and our categorization systems must evolve as they do. Information systems must have built in the capacity to accept the new categorization systems as they evolve from, or outside, the framework of the old. Not just the new material, but the capacity for new arrangements and indefinite rearrangements of the old, must be possible." (97)