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.
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).
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… ❧
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
I've been a little scatter-brained over the past few weeks. I've started lots of little projects and finished almost none of them. Hopefully, they'll all start to wrap up soon. I mentioned on a previous Indie Dev Life that I was working on an update to the Pine.blog iOS app, and that is still true. ...
Narwhal is a free WordPress plugin I maintain which adds a minimal front end new post box. You may configure it within WordPress' Writing settings. I use t...
A Metacrap Problem
It’s metacrap–I know, I know–but I’ve been thinking about easy ways to use Open Graph Protocol meta data to add contextual Twitter cards to some of my content when syndicating posts to Twitter. My goal is to leverage the speed and ease-of-use of Micropub clients while doing as little as possible manually, but achieving as much parity between posts on multiple sites.
I’m particularly keen to do this to syndicate/share more of the articles I read and post about on my site without adding additional manual work on my own part.
Outline of Some Resources
The Post Kinds plugin for WordPress parses URLs for me and pulls in data to create reply contexts for a variety of posts like bookmarks, reads, watches, listens, etc. Since Post Kinds doesn’t display featured images (yet), I’ve also been using the External Featured Image plugin to display the featured images from the original to add to the reply context of my posts as well.
In addition to all these I’ve been using the All in One SEO plugin to easily add an SEO layer to posts without having to do much thinking about it. AIOSEO recently upgraded their UI and features in the last year, and yesterday I upgraded to the newest v4.0+. One of the new features it’s got is the ability to add default fields or pull in pre-existing custom fields to output OGP meta data.
Start of a Solution
So I got the idea that since Post Kinds and External Featured Image plugins are pulling in and displaying the sort of data I’d like to show in Twitter cards, I figured why not use them? While metacrap is a DRY violation, the fact that it’s automated for me and is based on data I’m actually showing visually on my website makes it feel much less dirty. It also has the benefit that it helps make some of my syndicated content look and feel on Twitter, more like it does on my website. This is also a problem since Twitter hampers how much data I can syndicate in a single post.
I’ve still got some issues about how to deal with the Post Kinds data, but after a bit of digging around, I discovered the image URL for External Featured Image plugin is hiding in the
_dcms_eufi_img field. So I can make the default Twitter settings in AIOSEO pull the external image by setting
Default Post Image Source to
Image from Custom Field and set the
Post Custom Field Name to
Since a lot of my posts are reads, bookmarks, etc., this works well, but I can easily override the settings for articles or other custom posts which I make less frequently.
Hopefully I can figure out the settings for Post Kinds to get the rest of the default fields to map across. I’m happy to hear ideas on what field names I’d need to use to get the Post Kinds
Summary/Quote fields to map over for the
og:description respectively. Ideally I can manage to get it done without needing to get a subscription to the pro version of AIOSEO which also has support for custom taxonomies which is how Post Kinds works.
Since my theme has relatively solid microformats support, and I have plugin infrastructure to allow easy syndication from my website to Twitter through micropub clients, this last bit for creating Twitter reply contexts helps close some of the loop for me in my syndication workflow while keeping as much context across platforms.
Here’s a visual example of a native post on my site and the corresponding syndicated copy on Twitter. There are some differences, mostly because I don’t have as much control of the appearance on Twitter as I do on my own site, but they’re about as close as I can get them with minimal work.
In particular take a look at the great, and intuitive UI she’s got at the bottom of her post:
Just click on the link, reply and go. It would be nice to see other social platforms allow this sort of interaction. Setting it up for Mastodon should also be pretty simple too.
… then you just might have to pound them in yourself. And few things in this tech work give me more joy when figuring an end around, even if it’s one you end up not using. Rising For a …
It looks like it used to be in the repository, but perhaps with the rise of Gutenberg, they opted not to maintain it?
I follow most of the code there, but I’m thinking too much of the actual output is done via JS with tinyMCE, so maybe I’m missing some of the finer portions. It also needs some tweaks to redirect to maybe the Internet Archive since curatorscode.org no longer exists.
I’m thinking an output closer to the following for each type might still be simple, but provide some additional context, (presuming my microformats aren’t too horrific/mis-nested):
<p><small><cite class="h-cite via"><abbr title="via">ᔥ</abbr> <span class="p-author h-card">AuthorTK</span> <a class="u-url p-name" href="https://example.com/TK" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TitleTK</a> (<time class="dt-published">2020-TK-TK</time>)</cite></small></p>
<p><small><cite class="h-cite ht"><abbr title="hat tip">↬</abbr> <span class="p-author h-card">AuthorTK</span> <a class="u-url p-name" href="https://example.com/TK" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TitleTK</a> (<time class="dt-published">2020-01-29</time>)</cite></small></p>
Hopefully the via and ht classes also give people enough to latch onto for doing some custom styling of the output if necessary.
With more prevalence of crediting like this, I also wonder how parsers might better display received webmentions for these types of notifications beyond the basic “Sue mentioned this”. Maybe a facepile of avatars under the heading “Inspired by this post”? Though the way “via” is used in practice, it might also fit under the category of a repost?
These two quotes provide an interesting framing for comparing and contrasting the UI and functionality for the way that feed readers, email, and blogging (or more broadly networked thinking and communication) work.
Modern social readers provide a reply button and functionality along with the broadcast capabilities. Throw in the idea of person-tagging, and one has the ability to generally broadcast a message to anyone who cares to read (either by search or subscription), as well as to send notifications to specific people (or perhaps groups) that might be interested in the specific message.
First, some backstory. But feel free to skip to the good stuff! With topics ranging from media and social critiques, to making and tech topics that I care about, to death itself, regular content from creators that post on YouTube have been a part of my daily life for the last several years. This is...
Owning your own data is great. I’ve been using this website as the central IndieWeb point of my online life for over five years, and I love it. However, the joy of owning your own website comes bundled with great responsibility: as the website owner, I am responsible for what’s on my site and fo...
It could be an interesting way to effect sparklines for people on one’s site as well as to do person-tags.
It’s nice not to need to store the data on one’s own website, but it also means thinking about degradation of links over time as well as needing a particular permalink (? I’ll have to look at the particular details) to have the transclusion work.
The Bobcat fire ignited on Sunday and quickly grew to threaten Mount Wilson.
Phone notifications that disappear too quickly in emergencies can be really bad UI.
It’s too painful to quickly get frequent notes into note taking and related platforms. Hypothes.is has an open API and a great UI that can be leveraged to simplify note taking processes.
Note taking tools
I’ve been keeping notes in systems like OneNote and Evernote for ages, but for my memory-related research and work in combination with my commonplace book for the last year, I’ve been alternately using TiddlyWiki (with TiddlyBlink) and WordPress (it’s way more than a blog.)
I’ve also dabbled significantly enough with related systems like Roam Research, Obsidian, Org mode/Org Roam, MediaWiki, DocuWiki, and many others to know what I’m looking for.
Many of these, particularly those that can be used alternately as commonplace books and zettelkasten appeal to me greatly when they include the idea of backlinks. (I’ve been using Webmention to leverage that functionality in WordPress settings, and MediaWiki gives it grudgingly with the “what links to this page” basic functionality that can be leveraged into better transclusion if necessary.)
The major problem with most note taking tools
The final remaining problem I’ve found with almost all of these platforms is being able to quickly and easily get data into them so that I can work with or manipulate it. For me the worst part of note taking is the actual taking of notes. Once I’ve got them, I can do some generally useful things with them—it’s literally the physical method of getting data from a web page, book, or other platform into the actual digital notebook that is the most painful, mindless, and useless thing for me.
Evernote and OneNote
Older note taking services like Evernote and OneNote come with browser bookmarklets or mobile share functionality that make taking notes and extracting data from web sources simple and straightforward. Then once the data is in your notebook you can actually do some work with it. Sadly neither of these services has the backlinking functionality that I find has become de rigueur for my note taking or knowledge wrangling needs.
My WordPress solutions are pretty well set since that workflow is entirely web-based and because WordPress has both bookmarklet and Micropub support. There I’m primarily using a variety of feeds and services to format data into a usable form that I can use to ping my Micropub endpoint. The Micropub plugin handles the post and most of the meta data I care about.
It would be great if other web services had support for Micropub this way too, as I could see some massive benefits to MediaWiki, Roam Research, and TiddlyWiki if they had this sort of support. The idea of Micropub has such great potential for great user interfaces. I could also see many of these services modifying projects like Omnibear to extend themselves to create highlighting (quoting) and annotating functionality with a browser extension.
With this said, I’m finding that the user interface piece that I’m missing for almost all of these note taking tools is raw data collection.
I’m not the sort of person whose learning style (or memory) is benefited by writing or typing out notes into my notebooks. I’d far rather just have it magically happen. Even copying and pasting data from a web browser into my digital notebook is a painful and annoying process, especially when you’re reading and collecting/curating as many notes as I tend to. I’d rather be able to highlight, type some thoughts and have it appear in my notebook. This would prevent the flow of my reading, thinking, and short annotations from being subverted by the note collection process.
Different modalities for content consumption and note taking
Based on my general experience there are only a handful of different spaces where I’m typically making notes.
A large portion of my reading these days is done in online settings. From newspapers, magazines, journal articles and more, I’m usually reading them online and taking notes from them there.
Some texts I want to read (often books and journal articles) only live in .pdf form. While reading them in an app-specific setting has previously been my preference, I’ve taken to reading them from within browsers. I’ll explain why in just a moment, but it has to do with a tool that treats this method the same as the general online modality. I’ll note that most of the .pdf specific apps have dreadful data export—if any.
Reading e-books (Kindle, e-readers, etc.)
If it’s not online or in .pdf format, I’m usually reading books within a Kindle or other e-reading device. These are usually fairly easy to add highlights, annotations, and notes to. While there are some paid apps that can extract these notes, I don’t find it too difficult to find the raw file and cut and paste the data into my notebook of choice. Once there, going through my notes, reformatting them (if necessary), tagging them and expanding on them is not only relatively straightforward, but it also serves as a simple method for doing a first pass of spaced repetition and review for better long term recall.
Naturally taking notes from live lectures, audiobooks, and other spoken events occurs, but more often in these cases, I’m typically able to type them directly into my notebook of preference or I’m using something like my digital Livescribe pen for notes which get converted by OCR and are easy enough to convert in bulk into a digital notebook. I won’t belabor this part further, though if others have quick methods, I’d love to hear them.
While I love a physical book 10x more than the next 100 people, I’ve been trying to stay away from them because I find that though they’re easy to highlight, underline, and annotate the margins, it takes too much time and effort (generally useless for memory purposes for me) to transfer these notes into a digital notebook setting. And after all, it’s the time saving piece I’m after here, so my preference is to read in some digital format if at all possible.
A potential solution for most of these modalities
For several years now, I’ve been enamored of the online Hypothes.is annotation tool. It’s open source, allows me reasonable access to my data from the (free) hosted version, and has a simple, beautiful, and fast process for bookmarking, highlighting, and annotating online texts on desktop and mobile. It works exceptionally well for both web pages and when reading .pdf texts within a browser window.
I’ve used it daily to make several thousand annotations on 800+ online web pages and documents. I’m not sure how I managed without it before. It’s the note taking tool I wished I’d always had. It’s a fun and welcome part of my daily life. It does exactly what I want it to and generally stays out of the way otherwise. I love it and recommend it unreservedly. It’s helped me to think more deeply and interact more directly with countless texts.
When reading on desktop or mobile platforms, it’s very simple to tap a browser extension and have all their functionality immediately available. I can quickly highlight a section of a text and their UI pops open to allow me to annotate, tag it, and publish. I feel like it’s even faster than posting something to Twitter. It is fantastically elegant.
The one problem I have with it is that while it’s great for collecting and aggregating my note data into my Hypothes.is account, there’s not much I can do with it once it’s there. It’s missing the notebook functionality some of these other services provide. I wish I could plug all my annotation and highlight content into spaced repetition systems or move it around and modify it within a notebook where it might be more interactive and cross linked for the long term. Sadly I don’t think that any of this sort of functionality is on Hypothes.is’ roadmap any time soon.
There is some great news however! Hypothes.is is open source and has a reasonable API. This portends some exciting things! This means that any of these wiki, zettelkasten, note taking, or spaced repetition services could leverage the UI for collecting data and pipe it into their interfaces for direct use.
As an example, what if I could quickly tell Obsidian to import all my pre-existing and future Hypothes.is data directly into my Obsidian vault for manipulating as notes? (And wouldn’t you know, the small atomic notes I get by highlighting and annotating are just the sort that one would like in a zettelkasten!) What if I could pick and choose specific course-related data from my reading and note taking in Hypothes.is (perhaps by tag or group) for import into Anki to quickly create some flash cards for spaced repetition review? For me, this combination would be my dream application!
These small pieces, loosely joined can provide some awesome opportunities for knowledge workers, students, researchers, and others. The education focused direction that Hypothes.is, many of these note taking platforms, and spaced repetition systems are all facing positions them to make a super-product that we all want and need.
So today, as a somewhat limited experiment, I played around with my Hypothes.is atom feed (https://hypothes.is/stream.atom?user=chrisaldrich, because you know you want to subscribe to this) and piped it into IFTTT. Each post creates a new document in a OneDrive file which I can convert to a markdown .md file that can be picked up by my Obsidian client. While I can’t easily get the tags the way I’d like (because they’re not included in the feed) and the formatting is incredibly close, but not quite there, the result is actually quite nice.
Since I can “drop” all my new notes into a particular folder, I can easily process them all at a later date/time if necessary. In fact, I find that the fact that I might want to revisit all my notes to do quick tweaks or adding links or additional thoughts provides the added benefit of a first round of spaced repetition for the notes I took.
Some notes may end up being deleted or reshuffled, but one thing is clear: I’ve never been able to so simply highlight, annotate, and take notes on documents online and get them into my notebook so quickly. And when I want to do something with them, there they are, already sitting in my notebook for manipulation, cross-linking, spaced repetition, and review.
So if the developers of any of these platforms are paying attention, I (and I’m sure others) really can’t wait for plugin integrations using the full power of the Hypothes.is API that allow us to all leverage Hypothes.is’ user interface to make our workflows seamlessly simple.
Introducing About Feeds
aboutfeeds.com is a single page website, for linking wherever you keep your web feed.
I think it’d also be cool if this sort of simple UI were also easier to use with some of the newer IndieWeb social readers that are making it easier to follow websites and interact with them.