Sunday, September 23, 2007

What goes around, comes around!

In the the fall of 1978 I sat in this comfortable Eames lounge chair, and with the same thumb controls that I now have on my laptop, "flew" through the amazing information spaces that Richard Bolt and Nick Negroponte had built at the MIT Architecture Machine Group. A full report on this visionary innovation is contained in the MIT archives as a downloadable pdf. You can get a copy of the full report here. (1) Scroll down until you see this image and select the download.

It is worth reading, since a good deal of the interface designs for the original Macintosh and for Microsoft Windows that followed it came from a visit by Bill Atkinson, a key member of the Macintosh team, to MIT after they had already "JOBBED" the design for the Macintosh from their visits to the ALTOS computer lab at Xerox PARC. A bit of history of the evolution of the PC/MAC user interfaces that is not widely known.

The vision of the SDMS persists today in many of the visual interfaces we use to navigate spatially from an image space we have become familiar with, using the image "map" to orient our deeper dive into the data it "contains".

In my first post on this blog (2) I outlined my thoughts about the combination of image maps with multimedia databases using visual maps as a way to compress the time for searching the the Web. google has delivered a great example in google maps, and we now need a way to do this with "non-geographic" maps.

Here is a visual clip from the SDMS document showing how the guys at MIT visualized the "nested" spaces of their remarkable system.

Today, with the experience of 30 years to guide us, we are able to encapsulate the features MIT envisioned in their SDMS labs in an easy to use , "embeddable" browser widget . We can now re-create their vision with simple user tools for "authoring" nested levels of structure ( Frameworks) like those shown in the image above, linking these Frameworks through continously refreshable, syndicated feeds of information from the vast reaches of the Web.

From the perspective of 30 years of living in the increasingly visual and powerful digital world of computers and communications technologies, and now able to enjoy them through the World Wide Web, I can see that the vision the guys at MIT Architecture Machine Group innovated being made available today to anyone with a laptop and a web browser. ( and with a Safari browser widget for iPhone aficcianados)

I will soon be able to share my frameworks and their related image map widgets with anyone on the web, and better yet, through global conversations, enable anyone who wishes to do so to add the collaborative value of the "wisdom of crowds" to our sharable knowledge by passing these widgets around and adding their own 2 cents worth.

Back to the future!!

(1) Speech Interface Group - Papers

(2) Thoughts Illustrated: TI - first example the thoughts of Doug Engelbart

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