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Information Architect Alex Wright Talks About the Lessons of It History


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The New York Times information architect Alex Wright says in an interview that there is a tendency to concentrate on information technology's future at the expense of its past. He points out, for example, that many promising concepts about hypertext that preceded the Web were jettisoned, and says that "if you look at the work of people like Ted Nelson or Doug Engelbart or Andries van Dam, you'll find some really interesting alternate ways of thinking about how networked information systems could work."

Wright mentions Nelson's Xanadu project, which presented key notions such as the idea that all hyperlinks should be two-way. He observes that many people dismiss top-down information categorization methods prior to the advent of the Web as anachronistic and no longer relevant in a world of billions of documents. However, Wright believes there is a part for ontologies and taxonomies to play, although they will be produced by machines and will extract meaning from large corpora of data. He cites linguist Walter J. Ong's argument that oral culture is experiencing a resurgence due to the emergence of electronic media, and challenging a lot of the old premises about literacy.

"If you look at the way people interact on social networking sites, blogs, email, IM, Twitter and so on, they have more in common with oral communications than with traditional [written] communications," Wright says.

From Computerworld
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