Saturday, January 10, 2004

Engelbart profile in Wired and tools for knowledge work

The Click Heard Round the World. Fifteen years before the Mac, Doug Engelbart demo'd videoconferencing, hyperlinks, text editing and something called a 'mouse.' He tells Wired magazine writer Ken Jordan about his part in the point-and-click revolution. [Wired News]

Great overview of Doug Engelbart's work from Wired. Alan Kay once told me that you could explain most of the history of personal computing as people trying to work out the implications of what Engelbart demoed in 1968. Here's Engelbart on how they framed their approach:

Our approach was very different from what they called "office automation," which was about automating the paperwork of secretaries. That became the focus of Xerox PARC in the '70s. They were quite amazed that they could actually get text on the screen to appear the way it would when printed by a laser printer. Sure, that was an enormous accomplishment, and understandably it swayed their thinking. They called it "what you see is what you get" editing, or WYSIWYG. I say, yeah, but that's all you get. Once people have experienced the more flexible manipulation of text that NLS allows, they find the paper model restrictive.

We weren't interested in "automation" but in "augmentation." We were not just building a tool, we were designing an entire system for working with knowledge. Automation means if you're milking a cow, you get a tool that will milk it for you. But to augment the milking of a cow, you invent the telephone. The telephone not only changes how you milk, but the rest of the way you work as well. It touches the entire process. It was a paradigm shift.

One key notion of Engelbart's that I don't think has been sufficiently investigated or thought about is the time investment in learning to use new and powerful tools for working. The industry, by and large, has gone down the path of initial experience and ease of use out of the box. Very often this is at the expense of long term ease of use.

Take something as seemingly simple as outlining software, a category Dave Winer contributed to greatly. The earliest outliners like ThinkTank and More devoted considerable thought to using the power of technology to let you do things with outlines that weren't possible on paper. But the marketing forces driving software led mostly to the vestigial capabilities for outlining left in Word or Powerpoint. There are some promising developments such as MindManager for the PC and OmniOutliner for the Mac, but they are niche applications. Few seem prepared to invest the time to learn how to make effective use of these tools to think. Engelbart assumes that you will invest considerable time to learn to use the tools. For those with well defined work worlds (think AutoCad or Excel or programming), there is an expectation that it takes time to become effective using new tools. Not so in the world of general purpose knowledge work. There's opportunity there still to be exploited.

4:56:19 PM •  • comment  
RSS feeds from CIO Magazine

CIO. CIO RSS Feeds available. CIO content is now available in an easy-to-use XML format. Stream our feeds to your website or desktop aggregator for an instant and automatically updated list of our latest stories. The feeds are refreshed daily and the content within them is updated as new resources become available on our site.... [Lockergnome's RSS Resource]

A great collection of categorized RSS feeds from one of the authoritative voices in the IT management world.

As I've come to expect for "conventional" publishers easing into RSS waters, CIO's feeds are essentially teasers designed to get you to go read the full story on their site. Fortunately, the writers at CIO know how to write good teasers. If you're going to use RSS in this fashion, then you need to do it professionally; give me a good teaser, not the first 50 words of the story.

11:13:22 AM •  • comment