Explorable Explanations

Do our reading environments encourage active reading? Or do they utterly oppose it? A typical reading tool, such as a book or website, displays the author’s argument, and nothing else. The reader’s line of thought remains internal and invisible, vague and speculative. We form questions, but can’t answer them. We consider alternatives, but can’t explore them. We question assumptions, but can’t verify them. And so, in the end, we blindly trust, or blindly don’t, and we miss the deep understanding that comes from dialogue and exploration.

Explorable Explanations is my umbrella project for ideas that enable and encourage truly active reading. The goal is to change people’s relationship with text. People currently think of text as information to be consumed. I want text to be used as an environment to think in.

Bret Victor – Explorable Explanations.


matro says:

There is room for both. On one end, you’ve got the potential of amazing engagement with tight & constructive feedback loops, but equal potential for derptastic groupthink and hijacking/defacement of the original post. On the other hand, you’ve got all of the very valid reasons for just giving up and being like Gruber.

I think it really just depends, and that we need better additive/wrapping annotation/sharing/commentary tools. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for an author to not want to bother with hosting the conversation that surrounds a published piece. But I think there’s also tremendous room for improvement in the “let people create their own conversations” space. The current “write your own blog post” state of the art is inadequate, and the lazy comment-hosting outsourcing to widget systems is, frankly, bullshit. The idea of good ol’ trackback URLs is great, but their usability is useless, and implementations are far too prone to abuse. And don’t even get me started on the destructive echo chambers of web-hostile “social” networks like Facebook/G+.

I think the solution lies in a sweet spot somewhere, as well as sitting atop the solutions of other more fundamental problems, such as implementing federated systems of identity (half-solved), discourse (maybe possibly solved) quantifiable reputation (not at all solved), and quantifiable “worthwhileness” of a comment’s payload (not at all solved, though see certain half-locked Stack Exchange posts).

Come to think of it, if someone implements the Stack Exchange game+reputation mechanics in an abuse-resistant federated manner, then we’d have a true recipe for awesomeness stewing on the Internet stove.

Matt Pearson says:

Incidentally, this blurb (encountered in my Twitter stream somewhat close to your own post) is kind of related: http://scripting.com/stories/2012/05/26/simpleProposalToDiscussion.html.

I’m not gorkking the practical implementation that Dave Winer is trying to describe there, but it seems to hinge on support for (and utilization of) the interfaces of a site itself, while also somehow shunting the user through their localhost’s loopback network interface. Relying on sites themselves to explicitly support yet another format/protocol themselves will have slow and poor uptake, and ironically still allow a site’s author to host (in a manner of speaking) that which many simply don’t wish to host. It also lets a site “control” methods of dialog and conversation along the same lines that the stupid-annoying “share to these services” buttons try to govern sharing channels. And of course, relying on in-browser support is also a huge impediment, let alone something that listens to `lo` on port 80 or something.

This all strikes me as very… flat.

The annotate/dialog thing feels to me like it belongs as some kind of “overlay” layer that sits atop the content objects that they reference. And even within this layer, not all commentary is created equal.

We need tools of empowerment, but we need them to be cognoscente of where they fit in the grand scheme of things, and not try to do too much or be something they intrinsically aren’t.

I’m also tired and feeling incoherently grumbly about things I see as incoherent. Hello, self-reinforcing spiral into madness!

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