Read Transclusion and Transcopyright Dreams (maggieappleton.com)

In 1965 Ted Nelson imagined a system of interactive, extendable text where words would be freed from the constraints of paper documents. This hypertext would make documents linkable.

Twenty years later, Tim Berners Lee took inspiration from Nelson's vision, as well as other narratives like Vannevar Bush's Memex, to create the World Wide Web. Hypertext came to life.

I love the layout and the fantastic live UI examples on this page.

There are a few missing pieces for the primacy of some of these ideas. The broader concept of the commonplace book predated Nelson and Bush by centuries and surely informed much (if not all) of their thinking about these ideas. It’s assuredly the case that people already had the ideas either in their heads or written down and the links between them existed only in their minds or to some extent in indices as can be found in the literature—John Locke had a particularly popular index method that was widely circulated.

The other piece I find missing is a more historical and anthropological one which Western culture has wholly discounted until recently. There’s a pattern around the world of indigenous peoples in primarily oral cultures using mnemonic techniques going back at least 40,000 years. Many of these techniques were built into daily life in ways heretofore unimagined in modern Western Culture, but which are a more deeply layered version of transclusion imagined here. In some sense they transcluded almost all of their most important knowledge into their daily lives. The primary difference is that all the information was stored visually and associatively in the minds of people rather than on paper (through literacy) or via computers. The best work I’ve seen on the subject is Lynne Kelly’s Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture which has its own profound thesis and is underpinned by a great deal of archaeologic and anthropologic primary research. Given its density I recommend her short lecture Modern Memory, Ancient Methods which does a reasonable job of scratching the surface of these ideas.

Another fantastic historical precursor of these ideas can be found in ancient Jewish writings like the Mishnah which is often presented as an original, more ancient text surrounded by annotated interpretations which are surrounded by other re-interpretations on the same page. Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia have a good discussion of this in their book Annotation (MIT Press, 2019).

page of Jewish text with Mishnah in the center and surrounded by various layers of commentary in succeding blocks around it
Image of a super-annotated page of Torah from chapter 3 of Annotation (MIT Press, 2019) by R. Kalir and A. Garcia

It would create a more layered and nuanced form of hypertext – something we’re exploring in the Digital Gardening movement. We could build accumulative, conversational exchanges with people on the level of the word, sentence, and paragraph, not the entire document. Authors could fix typos, write revisions, and push version updates that propogate across the web the same way we do with software. 

The Webmention spec allows for resending notifications and thus subsequent re-parsing and updating of content. This could be a signal sent to any links to the content that it had been updated and allow any translcuded pages to update if they wished.

Annotated on February 09, 2021 at 02:38PM

In this idealised utopia we obviously want to place value on sharing and curation as well as original creation, which means giving a small fraction of the payment to the re-publisher as well.We should note monetisation of all this content is optional. Some websites would allow their content to be transcluded for free, while others might charge hefty fees for a few sentences. If all goes well, we’d expect the majority of content on the web to be either free or priced at reasonable micro-amounts. 

While this is nice in theory, there’s a long road strewn with attempts at micropayments on the web. I see new ones every six months or so. (Here’s a recent one: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqrvNoDE35lFDUv2enkaEKuo6ATBj9GmL)

This also dramatically misses the idea of how copyright and intellectual property work in many countries with regard to fair use doctrine. For short quotes and excerpts almost anyone anywhere can do this for free already. It’s definitely nice and proper to credit the original, but as a society we already have norms for how to do this.

Annotated on February 09, 2021 at 02:46PM

Transclusion would make this whole scenario quite different. Let’s imagine this again… 

Many in the IndieWeb have already prototyped this using some open web standards. It’s embodied in the idea of media fragments and fragmentions, a portmanteau of the words fragment and Webmention.

A great example can be found at https://www.kartikprabhu.com/articles/marginalia

This reminds me that I need to kick my own server to fix the functionality on my main site and potentially add it to a few others.

Annotated on February 09, 2021 at 02:59PM

We can easily imagine transclusions going the way of the public comments section. 

There are definitely ways around this, particularly if it is done by the site owner instead of enabled by a third party system like News Genius or Hypothes.is.

Examples of this in the wild can be found at https://indieweb.org/annotation#Annotation_Sites_Enable_Abuse.

Annotated on February 09, 2021 at 03:04PM

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

5 thoughts on “”

  1. Your criticisms here are too weighted towards an interpretation of her piece as describing, well, copies — which are what have their antecedents in commonplace books and annotated commentary. Her piece is criticisably mushy in that it is not defining the way in which what she’s describing is not embedding, because it definitely is to the extent that she’s saying that authors can fix typos and that the unpermitted insertion of new content would be a problem. Fragmentions don’t allow the text of a page to change without potentially breaking the link and so represent a set of constraints more aligned with the copy than the embed.

    Also, quoting bits of things is very Fair Use, but using copyrighted images instead of Unsplash to illustrate an article is a classic example of You’re Going To Get In Trouble, so I’m inclined to say there’s a good reason why people keep trying to crack the monetization egg every six months or so.

    Love love love the idea of federated knowledgebases / interwoven wikis / cross-pollinated digital gardens, but I balk at the idea of internal links and webmentions and relations that have meaningful types within the domain of the wiki all being collapsed into one category. Here’s hoping whatever https://multiverse.plus/ is coming up with provokes more ideas!

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