TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Google, Blogger and Memex

Recent interest in the Memex was sparked off by Googles purchase of Pyra Labs. By itself, the purchase of a small, private company (Pyra had all of five people) would not have garnered much attention. But Pyra is important for an especially crucial section of people on the web. Pyra runs, which hosts more than half a million bloggers. Bloggers are the trailblazers of a new world and an especially vocal lot leading a writing revolution in a largely read-only web. So it was only natural that speculation mounted on the motives of Googles purchase.

It was Matt Web who made the association between Google, Pyra and Memex. This is what he wrote (on his blog):

[Google have] got one-to-one connections. Links. Now they’ve realised like Ted Nelson – that the fundamental unit of the web isn’t the link, but the trail. And the only place that’s online is… weblogs.

There are two levels to the trail:

1 – what you see
2 – what you do
(“And what you feel on another track” — what song is that?)

And the trail is, in its simplest form, organised chronologically. Later it gets more complex. Look to see Google introduce categories based on DMOZ as a next step.

So, the Google Toolbar tracks everything you do on the web, giving you low-level anonymous trails tying the web together. These are analagous to the strings of physics, or the rows and columns of Excel. This is 1, what you see.

Now there’s the semantics, the meaning extracted from these, and that’s done with the human mind. This is 2, what you do. What you choose to elevate. Now these trails are the basic units.

The combination of the two is startling.

Oh, and you can analyse how people search to add extra data. Stop and start points.

Imagine, searching at Google, and then:
– this trail is highly followed
– do you only want to see what people suggest, or where people went?
– here’s a worn track in the interweb. Follow the Google Pixie!
– this trail is uncommon, but made by someone we see (by your weblog) that you value

And next, it’s the true Memex. The Google appliance based on microfiche, punchcards and cameras…

Matt Webb made a mention of the Google Toolbar. This is a small application which anyone can download and install on ones local computer. It provides a direct Google search window as part of the browser, and also provides information on the page displayed in the browser. More importantly, it provides Google the ability to see we surf what are the trails that we follow as click on links to navigate from one page to another.

This ability to access the trails that people is also possible in another application that can be downloaded Alexa, which provides information on related sites. (Alexa is now owned by Amazon.) Ones own history as captured by the browser is another such places where information is stored.

The challenge is to connect up the information from many people. The trails collected by Google Toolbar, Alexa are only available to the two organisations whose applications they are. This is where bloggers come on they are now putting up on their page links to pages they like. While not capturing the entire browsing history, blogs are collecting links to articles that the blog author likes (or dislikes). Taken over thousands of people, it now becomes possible to envision a system that can start building associations. This can serve as a starting point for constructing the Memex.

Tomorrow: Google, Blogger and Memex (continued)

TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.