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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Computing: What Went Wrong

The year, 2010.  The state of computing?  Applications that build obfuscating document types that act as black boxes, hiding and separating information and intent.  File systems that store these documents largely blind of their content, of the context of their origination, and of the associations hidden in the meaning that binds them to the flow of the author's life and work.

There are but a finite set of ways that information needs to be associated.  Yet almost none of these association types are supported by our computers.  If you don't know before hand that everything you want to do will fit into the format of a linear text document, or the grid of a spread sheet, or the fields and records of a data base, well you might as well not even start.  If you want some information in one of your documents to reference information in another, well you had better be content with copying and pasting (live links are forbidden in all but the most expensive (and self-restrictive) application "suites".

Why is this true?  Why don't we yet have computers that can compute?  Mainly because the application layer is the WRONG place for the association of information.  The file system is the RIGHT place.  Information must be related and associated in a strata far below the application layer.  The only authority that should be granted to applications is user affordance – how humans are helped through the assignment, understanding, and management of the associations within their life's data.

To do this, the data (file) management layer needs to be beefed up (and the application layer slimmed down).  Where today's file systems only know a document by its wrapper (name, enclosing folder, parent application, document type, size, date, and on-disc storage address), a true data model layer would "understand" and dictate the structure of all of the ways information is related both within and between "documents".  In fact, in a data-model driven architecture, documents become arbitrary "collections", "instances", and "presentations" specific to the context of presentation or use.  The underlying data and associations between data from which documents are derived remain intact, separate, and agnostic of the documents that serve to reference, blend, display, and associate.

In the proposed data-model driven architecture, applications don't define information association, they must call on the data model to ask which types of associations are allowed and how these associations dictate data type, grammatical hierarchies, and chunking.  Applications build documents not as strings of binary, but from pointers into the information content stored according to the meta-archetectural rules of the master data model.  A document becomes instead an instance of assembled data and data associations (either frozen or live)… more like the "edit decision lists" that video and music editing professionals use to assemble linear streams of media from multiple sources.

Today's computational model's awkward emphasis on application authority and autonomy promotes an informational ecosystem that promotes informational islands dictated by the whims of application developers.

[to be continued]

Randall Reetz

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