I this regard, I recently came across an article by Vannevar Bush. He writes
- "Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual.
There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.
Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose."
He goes then on praising recent technological developments...
- "Adding is only one operation. To perform arithmetical computation involves also subtraction, multiplication, and division, and in addition some method for temporary storage of results, removal from storage for further manipulation, and recording of final results by printing. Machines for these purposes are now of two types: keyboard machines for accounting and the like, manually controlled for the insertion of data, and usually automatically controlled as far as the sequence of operations is concerned; and punched-card machines in which separate operations are usually delegated to a series of machines, and the cards then transferred bodily from one to another. Both forms are very useful; but as far as complex computations are concerned, both are still in embryo."
The above quotes are from the article As We May Think, which was published in Atlantic Monthly, July 1945! It is worth reading the full text. Bush basically foresaw social tagging
- "When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.
The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain."
What is more interesting however is that he suggests to remember not only the associative keywords, but to store the paths people have taken to arrive at a certain piece of information.
Now I am wondering whether this suggestion would be worthwhile to try for navigation in the web. To begin with, I would sometimes be grateful to find the paths that I myself have taken before. (Never delete the browser history. Curse those who set A:visited = A:link ). Consider one could visualize the website you are viewing on a map with other people's paths going in and out, some major roads, some smaller sideways. I could imagine this to be useful to help with the keyword problem I occasionally encounter: what do you do with a search engine if you can't find the right keywords? Well, you guess something that might maybe come into the direction you hope for. It might be a bad guess though. E.g. if I start this way on the arxiv, I subsequently use a couple 'refers to' links, upon which one sooner or later always finds the relevant publications - rivers running to the sea. Now imagine you could instead just select among the paths others have taken - all these people must be good for something, do we have to repeat such path finding over and over again?
Just some Sunday afternoon random thoughts.