TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Connecting Blogs, Search and Personal Directories

Outlines – or Personal Directories – are the missing link in the information milieu that we see today. Imagine if each of us bloggers could create a set of pages which put our writings in context like a directory. So, now, if I wanted to find out more about WiFi or the Digital Divide and if I know that there is an expert in this area, then I can go to that person’s blog, knowing that I will get a complete perspective through the outline and links, rather than just what are the new developments. The blogger already has a mental map – a taxonomy, a context – of the space. With transclusion (the ability to connect and show outlines in place), all these individual outlines could be independently linked together to create paths through the web which a search engine or a directory can never do.

What’s missing? The language – OPML – is already there. What’s missing is a mass-market outlining tool which can be integrated with blogging. Radio Userland has an outliner. But what’s needed is integration at the blog post level – so that when I am doing a post, besides categorising it, I can also place it appropriately in my directory. Into this ecosystem of personal directories should then come search, and the ability to narrow searches – in a way the RSS search engines are now doing to blogs. They still do not cover verticals or trusted blogs, but that can be expected soon enough.

What Personal Directories will do is provide a context for viewing information. Instead of just seeing news items as individual specks, we will start seeing the landscape as a whole – through the eyes of the experts. This will create a richer overlay on the world that already exists. The time for a million, linked directories has now come.

Lets think about a world with personal directories. Imagine we were doing a paper on the Memex. The first step we would do (as I did when I started thinking about this topic) is go to Google and type memex. This is the result we would get. It is a good starting point but considering that others have probably also explored this topic in great depth, wouldnt it be useful to be (a) pointed to experts in this area, and (b) get connected to their outlines of the topic?

What is missing in the blogging world is a directory of experts. For which now, we could perhaps use Google itself, though it is a short step from where we are to build this. Imagine if I am searching for a specific topic, and then it could point me to people who have written extensively on that topic, and perhaps whom others consider as experts. This information could be gleaned by doing a semantic indexing of blog posts, along with seeing what others turn to the blogger for (for example, which of a bloggers posts have the most inward links).

Basically, this creates a third alternative to finding information: Yahoos directory gives us information on websites, Googles search gives us information on actual web pages, while our blog search gives us information on experts (who also maintain a blog). If bloggers started maintaining personal directories of the content space they have expertise in, it will provide a mapping of the blogosphere which is richer and more insightful and updated than anything we have seen before. By taking ideas from ants, brains, memes, and small worlds, the Memex can weave magic.

Tomorrow: Of Stigmergy and Memes

TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.