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    nmw 17:48:26 on 2016/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Bible, , , , , file, file name, file names, filename, filenames, files, graphical user interface, GUI, hardware, HCI, , human-computer interaction, , , , , , , , text, , , words   

    The Ubiquity of the Text Box (excursus) 

    One of my favorite authors in the field of „search“ is John Battelle. Although he was not trained in the field of information science or information retrieval, his experience in the fields of journalism and publishing at the cusp of the so-called „information revolution“ apparently led him to learn many things sort of by osmosis.

    One of my favorite ideas of his is the way he talks about human-computer interaction. Initially, this was almost exclusively text-based. Then, he notes, with the advent of „graphical user interfaces“ (GUIs), computers became more and more instruments with which humans, would point at stuff. He has presented this idea quite often, I don’t even know which presentation I should refer, link or point to – which one I should index.

    In the early days of search, the book was ubiquitous. Indeed, several hundred years ago it almost seems as though each and every question could be answered with one single codex – and this codex was called „Bible“ (which means, essentially, „the books“). We have come a long way, baby. Today, we might say that online, the text box is king“ (Tom Paine, eat your heart out! 😉 ).

    Although computer manufacturers desparately try to limit the choices consumers have once they have acquired their machines with loads of previously installed (and usually highly sponsored) software, it will not be very long before the typical consumer is confronted with a text box in order to interact with his or her mish-mash of hardware and software. Even without typing out any text whatsoever, whenever a human presses on a button to take a picture or clicks on an icon to record an audio or video, the associated files are given a text-string filename by the gizmo machinery. All of the code running on each and every machine is written out in plain text somewhere. When computers write their own Bible, it is quite probable that they would start off with something like „In the beginning was the text, and it was human.“

    If humans ever asked an „artificially intelligent“ computer a question like „what is love?“ the computer would probably be very hard-pressed not to respond „a four-letter word“.

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    nmw 19:40:37 on 2015/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , phrase, phrases, , , , , , , , , , , words, ,   

    The Web Doesn’t Change Much from Day to Day 

    Lately, I have predominently been writing on some of my other websites (most recently, in particular Socio Biz and Nooblogs Com).

    Here’s something that I have observed, though, which is really a very personal insight. Some people think my work is about writing. No, it isn’t. It also isn’t about reading (or what some people like to call “listening“).

    My work is mostly about organizing — in particular: identifying those words and phrases people find most useful when they search for information (which is also known as “information retrieval”).

    Whether or not I write (or read, or listen to) something myself is not important — what you need to consider is: Whether or not you want to be found. If so, then you should contact me. 😉

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    nmw 17:40:42 on 2015/09/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , fuzzy, fuzzy logic, , , , string, strings, , , , , words   

    Fuzzy Language and Fuzzy Vocabulary 

    Since I wrote about words vs. names a couple weeks ago (see “Names vs. Words: Strings for Identity vs. Strings for Information“), I have had an uneasy feeling that something is not well… and I think maybe I have figured it out now.

    The problem is this: online, there is no clear demarcation of words vs. names. As I indicated in the post I linked to above, neither is this true in a strict sense offline. However, even though many dictionaries exist for each of the most common languages (and even though they differ in the vocabularies they document, how they document these vocabularies, etc.), there is nonetheless a somewhat reliable order … such that anyone can be expected to “look up” any word in any dictionary and get a more or less reasonable explanation. Part of becoming literate involves being able to use a dictionary — indeed: any dictionary (more or less). Of course there are dictionaries which are unusable (as they are not well researched), but they are exceptions, not the rule. Most people depend on the notion of some standard dictionary, and such standard dictionaries describe the standard language.

    As I wrote about 10 years ago in my first “Wisdom of the Language” article, languages will always be moving targets. We have to be able to deal with such “facts of life”.

    But upon reflecting on the juxtaposition of “strings for identity” (names) versus “strings for information” (words), I notice a much more severe issue: It leaves no room for dictionaries. In the back of my mind, I have reasoned that all of the registered strings in COM would make up the “commercial” dictionary, all of the strings in DE would make up the German dictionary, and so on. But each of these lists of registered strings also includes a significant number of brand names (in other words: “strings for identities”).

    How will we know whether a string has been registered for a specific identity or whether it is registered for informative purposes? My gut feeling “hunch” reaction is that there may very well be attributes of the website / content that more or less clearly categorize the string as this type or that type. It might go like this: The more evidence there is of a “grass roots” type of community involvement in how the content is managed, the more the string would tend to be a word used by that community. Less evidence of this, and more evidence of a “top down” authoritarian management of the content would point towards an individual or organization identifying himself / herself / itself with the string.

    I realize this seems rather wishy-washy. Maybe someday I will figure out something more clear, but until then I guess I will just have to cope with such fuzzy notions: fuzzy vocabulary and fuzzy language.


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    nmw 08:43:05 on 2015/08/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , describe, description, descriptive, , , , , , , , , , , , , , specification, specifications, specify, , , , , words   

    Names vs. Words: Strings for Identity vs. Strings for Information 

    There is a long-standing tradition of distinguishing names from words — although it is not formally codified (even language itself is not “set in stone”, but rather is undergoing constant evolution — much like a living being), it can be roughly said that whereas words are in the (or a) dictionary, names are strings listed on specialized lists (e.g. baby names, trademark names, names identifying a company, product, service, etc.

    The purpose of names is to identify, and ideally a name should uniquely identify something (or someone). In an ideal world, a name would signify just one thing and exclude everything else. Try to explain that to John or to Joe or to Jane Doe and you will quickly realize we do not live in an ideal world. It seems that so-called “last” names were introduced several hundred years ago in order to more specifically exclude other Johns and other Joes … and perhaps some day soon we will again have to figure out how to make names like Jane Doe uniquely refer to this Jane and not that Jane.

    Such thinking is what leads many to think that the most perfect name is a name which is the most extremely exclusive. Rare is good, unique is best.

    Names have some similarity to words in selecting particular things, but they are also crucially different. Certainly no one would ever want to confuse eating with sleeping, and to mix up sex with rex would make many actors and tyrransauri in heaven rather “most irate”. Language does aim to specify, but it does not aim to specify uniquely. We eat many times over, we sleep many times over, we do and experience all sorts of things over and over again — more or less.

    Therefore, although rare words exist (as do common words), I do not know of a single word that could be described as unique. Likewise, I very much doubt that a universal word ever existed (though it seems as though this is alleged to be the beginning of everything, as we find in the very first book the Bible, Genesis, the statement that “in the beginning, was the word”).

    Today, we have a much more refined understanding of language. We understand that languages are not formed by decree or by other kinds over government regulation or state control. Instead they evolve according to the needs, wishes, whims and rational preferences of living people — in a sort of evolutionary process guided by principles much like “supply” and “demand” (and also the physical dexterity of the vocal apparatus, etc.). In some ways, language may perhaps be understood to evolve in symbiosis with humans, rather than being a technology devised by humans.

    There is little doubt in my mind that so-called natural language is the most basic of all information technologies, especially if you include such messages as are conveyed by intonation, gesticulation, facial expressions, body language, etc. into your notion of natural language. The importance of this fact is usually overlooked when people discuss “information technology” (IT) today.

    The main point I wish to make with this post is the following: It is very important to discern between names and words. The information technology (IT) functions referred to as “search”, and also “community”-oriented information retrieval must rely heavily on words (as only words/language can function as the basis of communication). In sharp contrast, identity is the opposite of  what is commonly referred to as “social” — it must be exclusively private, and ideally it would actually be unique.


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