See the Connection? Toward a WYSIWYNC Literature

Keynote from Ted Nelson

Talking about electronic literature for over 20 years. Felt alienated from the web because of ‘what it is not’.

Starting with the question – “what is literature”? For TN – a system of interconnected documents. But the web supports only ‘one way links’ – jumps into the unknown. Existing software does nothing for the writer to interact with this concept of ‘literacture’.

Constructs of books we have recreates the limitations of print – separate documents. Standard document formats – individual characters, scrambled with markup, encoded into a file. This thinking goes deep in the community – and TN contends this is why other ideas of how literature could exist are seen as impossible.

For the last 8-10 years, TN and colleagues working on a system that presents an interconnected literature (Xanadu Space). Two kinds of connection:

  • Links (connects things that are different, and are two way)
  • Transclusion (connects things that are the same)

TN illustrating using example of a programming working environment – where code, comments, bugs are transcluded into a single Integrated Work Environment.

  • We shouldn’t have ‘footnotes’ and ‘endnotes’ – they should be ‘on the side’.
  • Outlines should become tables of contents that go sideways into the document
  • Email quotation should be parallel – not ‘in line’

Vision is a parallel set of documents that can be see side-by-side.

History is parallel and connected – why do we not represent history as we write it – parallel coupled timelines and documents.

Challenge – how do you create this parallel set of connected documents? Each document needs to be addressable – so you can direct systems to ‘bring in text A from document B’. But challenges.

TN as a child was immersed in media. Dad was director for live TV – so TN got to see making television firsthand – his first experience was not just of consumption but as creation of TV. At college he produced musical, publication, film. Started designing interactive software.

How did we get here?

TN describing current realisation of the ‘translit’ approach – Xanadu. Several components:

  • Xanadoc – an ‘edit decision list format’ – generalisation of every quotation connected to it’s source
  • Xanalink – type, list of endsets (the things point at) – what to connected – exists independently of the doc?

What to do about changing documents? You copy & cache.

TN and colleagues almost ready to publish Xanadu specs for ‘xanadoc’ and ‘xanalink’ at Believes such an approach to literature can be published on the web, even though he dislikes the web for what it isn’t…

WYSIWYG – TN says only really applies to stuff you print out! TN aiming for ‘What you see is what you never could’ (do in print) – we need to throw off the chains of the printed document.


Joined Up Early Modern Diplomacy

Another winner of a DM2E Open Humanities award being presented today by Robyn Adams ( from the Center for Editing Lives and Letters. Project looked at repurposing data from the letters of Thomas Bodley (responsible for the refurbishment of the library at the University Oxford – creating the Bodleian Library).

Bodley’s letters are held in archives around the world. The letters are full of references to places, people etc. The letters had been digitised and transcribed – using software called ‘Transcribers Workbench’ developed specifically to help with early modern English writing. In order to make the transcribed data more valuable and usable decided to encode people and places from the letters – unfunded work on limited resources. Complicated by obscure references and also sometimes errors in the letters (e.g. Bodley states ‘the eldest son is to be married’ when it turns out it was the youngest son – makes researching the person to which Bodley is referring difficult).

This work was done in the absence of any specific use case. Now Robyn is re-approaching the data encoded as a consumer – to see how they can look for connections in the data to gain new insights

The data is available on Github at

Semantic tagging for old maps… and other things

Dr Bernhard Haslhofer from University of Vienna giving details on their winning entry into the DM2E Open Humanities competition (

MapHub – tools that allows you to map a historic map to the world as it is today. Also support commenting and semantic tagging.

All user contributed annotation is published via the Open Annotation API – so MapHub both consumes and produces open data.

Focussing today on Semantic Tagging in MapHub. While a user enters a full-text comment, MapHub analyses the text and tries to identify matching concepts in Wikipedia (DBPedia), and suggest them. User can click on suggested tags to accept it (or click again to reject). They carried out some research and found there was no difference between user behaviour in terms of number of tags added whether they used a ‘semantic tagging’ approach (linking each tag to a web resource) and ‘label tagging’ (tags operate as text strings).

Having found this successful, Bernhard would like to see the same concept applied to other resources – so planning to extract semantic tagging part of MapHub and develop a plugin for Annotorious. Also going to extend beyond the use of Geonames and Wikipedia – e.g. vocabularies expressed in SKOS. Aim to do this by September 2013.