RE: Best New Thing in User Documentation?

Subject: RE: Best New Thing in User Documentation?
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2011 03:26:17 -0700 (PDT)

"I like the ideas for the first two non-fiction examples, but the
interactive fiction...I don't think so. Maybe it's age-related, but I
can't ever remember a time when the idea of multiple endings was

This was painstakingly gone over in the old HT Lit craze.  The kind-of holy grail was some experimental fiction work (I forget ALL the particulars -- title, author, date) that was actually written on a deck of cards.  You shuffle the deck before reading and voila!  you have a unique story.  I have no idea how successful this piece was.  But outside of experiments in semiotics and perception, it turns out that people rely on authority when they read, deconstructionist screeds notwithstanding.  This is a shocking development!  Shoot, for all we know there might even be an objective reality out there (don't get me started). 

Evidence of the importance of authority in text is everywhere.  One example -- In spite of so-called universal information access on the Web-ternets, we have a proliferation of blogs.  That is, we have self-proclaimed authority figures (authors, for short) who pull together compatible molecules of information from the primal soup and assemble patterned constructs (author texts, for short).  A blog's value is measured by the amount of authority it's granted by the community of consuming nodes (readership, for short).  Some are valuable enough to somebody that an author can earn a buck doing this.  (Others are a load of wanking.  So be it.)

Or look at news papers that are losing authority.  Is it because (as they would claim) the informato-nets are more modern and the Times is just on paper, so news is at a disadvantage?  Given that papers are all online now, that's hard to believe.  Maybe it's because the *authority* has shifted from those who maintain journalistic ethics, over to those who maintain corporate ethics (5 media companies controlling the western world's access to news, music and entertainment, hence they throttle journalism (as the Wall Street Journal editors throttled the Bernie Madoff story 3 years before he was caught) in preference to flattering the big-ticket advertisers, for short).  In any event, it's the *authority* of the news papers in question, and that authority is measured by readership, same as with blogs.

So it is with fiction (ok, so most blogs ARE fiction, and journalism is increasingly so).  You spend time with a novel because you grant a person the authority to tell you an interesting story.  You want to know what that person thinks.  For crying out loud, why would I want to mess with the texts of Kurt Vonnegut, Victor Hugo, or Mark Twain?  Can I improve on that?  If I could, I certainly wouldn't be an aphid milked by my Dell ant to provide sustenance to the network, you can bet your bippy. 

All that said, the semiotic experiments are quite interesting.  One thing we haven't mentioned yet is the semantic web.  I don't know much about it, but I suspect it can lead to an automated assembly of molecules from a *limited* recipe of soup (specific information domain, for short).  That is, combining semantic tagging, structure, and lexical searches it should be possible to assemble a rich answer to a machine query -- an answer that resembles a thought-out text.  Sort of like, if you choose the cards for your text-deck (based on lexical hits from the search), filter them by semantic tagging, then sort them by structure, you might consistently get something useful.  Daniel Dennet would say that's how we think, anyway (or so I claim). 

So yeah...  the Semantic Web might be a Great New Thing.


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