Re: [unrev-II] GOOD: Traction, by Twisted Systems

From: Eric Armstrong (
Date: Fri Apr 14 2000 - 18:42:34 PDT

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    One more limitation, at the end. (Not distributed.)

    Eric Armstrong wrote:
    > URL:
    > Chris Nuzum gave a demo of the Traction system at Doug
    > Englebart's SRI meeting, today. I must admit to being
    > considerably impressed. In fact, I think we should begin
    > using this system as soon as possible to carry our own
    > work forward. Although it was not exactly the same as
    > what I would have envisioned, it is the closest thing
    > I have seen to a complete "Open HyperDocument System",
    > with hints of "DKR-ness" (Dynamic Knowledge Repository).
    > [Note to Chris: Open questions are in square brackets,
    > like this. Any info you can add will be appreciated.]
    > Before I get to the details, a word on marketing:
    > The system was presented as a "hypertext journaling
    > system". The web site calls it a "web journal". That
    > synopsis does a serious injustice, in my opinion. To
    > me, that doesn't really sound like much -- and I didn't
    > look very deeply at it when I visited the site. But the
    > demo convinced me that I had missed a diamond.
    > Overview
    > ========
    > Traction lets remote correspondents investigate, explore,
    > and collaborate on ideas -- tracking them as they are
    > gathered and saving them in a queryable database running
    > on a Java-based server that is accessed through a Web browser.
    > At the moment, the system is SGML-based, but they are
    > investigating and XML-ization of it.
    > (Traction was built with Doug's concepts (and his papers)
    > in mind, which might help to explain how close it is to
    > an ideal system. They've also drawn heavily from Ted Nelson's
    > ideas, which hasn't hurt.)
    > The system is currently being used by its designers in
    > France, developers scattered across the U.S., and various
    > other folks in the Twisted Systems (bad name!) organization.
    > Every spec and document they produce is developed in that
    > system, according to Chris.
    > Features
    > ========
    > The good points...
    > Hierarchy
    > ---------
    > The system seems to function with a two-level hierarchy,
    > at least from the demo I saw. There are headers and
    > paragraphs. Paragraphs are added when people add comments.
    > [I'm not sure where the headers came from. A depth-two
    > hierarchy may be limiting for some purposes, but there may
    > also be a fair amount that can be accomplished within that
    > structure, and there may be deeper structuring we just
    > didn't see.]
    > Attribution
    > -----------
    > Paragraphs are automatically tagged with time and author.
    > Categories
    > ----------
    > Traction has solved several of the problems I've been
    > concerned about -- including the ability to categorize
    > (and *re*categorize) paragraphs. A paragraph can have
    > multiple category tags. Tags like "for" and "against"
    > were defined in the demo system we saw, so IBIS-style
    > discussions can be carried out. Perhaps more importantly,
    > the tags can be added or changed later -- so the user
    > doesn't have to "pre categorize" what they intend to say.
    > The list of categories a paragraph belongs to is shown to
    > the right of the paragraph, in light blue text.
    > The available tags are defined by the current context,
    > producing a hierarchy of tags. Subtags were also allowed
    > as, for example, "Argument:for" and "Argument:against".
    > Although those tags were displayed linearly, rather than
    > in a tree, that is a fairly small defect (and may even be
    > preferable for fast access and use.)
    > Queries
    > -------
    > Traction lets you choose the paragraphs to display,
    > depending on their tags. Their "rapid selector" box
    > allows abbreviations [or requires them?] so you can
    > change the view rapidly.
    > (When it came to categorizing nodes, I couldn't decide
    > whether a category was a property (attribute) of a
    > node or an external heading that the node "belonged"
    > to. Catagory-based queries gave me the answer. In
    > essence, there is a category header that contains a
    > list of nodes. Each node also has a list of categories
    > to which it belongs. Searches then follow category
    > lists to get nodes. The node's list of categories is
    > then inspected to fill in the display.)
    > Flexible
    > --------
    > In addition to making it possible to change a node's
    > category, Traction makes it possible to change the
    > categories themselves. That feature was motivated by
    > Ted Nelson, who pointed out that our sense of organization
    > changes over time. So what is marked "ToDo" today,
    > can rather easily be modified to be one of "Feature:Open"
    > or "Bug:Open" in the future. When you decide to make a
    > change, the affected nodes are listed. You can then
    > select which ones are affected.
    > Historical
    > ----------
    > An "audit trail" is maintained for all changes to categories
    > and node-categorization. Going back to the a previous date
    > in history will therefore show a node marked as "ToDo",
    > rather than "Feature:Open" (if that's what it was changed to).
    > Interface
    > ---------
    > They use Internet Explorer [4? 5?] and used the
    > "whole-screen expansion" function which had the
    > interesting effect of pushing the URL and toolbar
    > buttons off screen. The interface they provided to the
    > Traction DB then "takes over", so you pretty much forget
    > you are in a browser -- it looks like an app.
    > Editing
    > -------
    > Editing looked a lot like using a normal editor. When the
    > editor came up, it showed a serious of paragraphs, and you
    > could then add new paragraphs between them. The editing
    > therefore took place "in context", rather than being in
    > a blank window.
    > [Q: I saw that new paragraphs could be added. But I didn't
    > see whether a paragraph could be edited. I suspect it
    > should be possible, but don't know for sure.]
    > Versioning
    > ----------
    > Chris said they used "simple linear versioning". [By that,
    > I presume he mean chronological versions, with no branching
    > of versions. Need to clarify.]
    > Permissions
    > -----------
    > Editing capabilities were restricted by access controls. So
    > it seemed to be possible to limit changes to the designated
    > author(s). [I seem to recall that it was possible to add
    > someone to the author list, but I'm not sure if I really heard
    > that.]
    > Linking
    > -------
    > It was possible to refer to other nodes in the database, the
    > demo did that using a name and number, like "Traction348".
    > Although normal hypertext links weren't shown, they are almost
    > certainly usable. [Yes?]
    > [TBD: Drag and drop of text is supported. Is it possible to
    > drag and drop a node link, as well?]
    > Limitations
    > ===========
    > All in all, the system seemed to be good deal closer to a
    > usable DKR than anything I have seen to date. If nothing else,
    > we should probably use it to help carry on our discussions of
    > where to go next -- both for the advantages it offers over
    > email and for the opportunity of "springboarding" to define
    > the next level of desirable features.
    > The major limitations observed so far are:
    > Inclusion
    > ---------
    > They use Ted Nelson's term "transclusion" for this. At the
    > moment, you can link to other items in the database, but you
    > can't include them inline. They are carrying on discussions
    > now on how to go about that.
    > Multi-level hierarchy (?)
    > -------------------------
    > [Is it possible to create hierarchies that are more than two
    > levels deep? Is there some reason that *isn't* desirable?]
    > Reduction (?)
    > -------------
    > [There is a versioning system, but does it apply to replacing
    > one hierarchy with an edited copy that has nodes deleted? That
    > would allow a discussion to be replaced with a reformulated,
    > reorganized version. I seem to recall Chris saying something
    > about selecting multiple nodes when creating a new one, but I'm
    > unclear about what happened after that.]
    > There is a "summary" capability, but it is intended for high
    > level abstractions, rather than the kind of "reformulation"
    > I have been envisioning. (I've been calling that process
    > "summary" but Rod's questions pretty convinced me I had the
    > wrong name for it, and this demo pounds in the final nail.
    > (Chris mentioned that the "summary" capability hasn't seen much
    > use so far. I suspect that is because summaries appear outside
    > the normal stream of access, rather than as an integral part of
    > the information stream.
    > This *might* be the one major gap in the system -- the ability
    > to replace an entire hierarchy (or chain of discussion) with an
    > edited version of same. That capability is necessary to convert
    > a great "journaling" system in an even greater "knowledge
    > repository".
    > ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Not Distributed
      Since the system isn't distributed, there is no way to identify
    new and changed nodes that *you* haven't read. (Or maybe there is,
    but it is going to be a ton of extra work for the server.)

    With a distributed system (like email) it becomes possible to
    more easily identify changes and new material, as well as keep
    track of material that has not been visited.

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    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Apr 14 2000 - 18:50:04 PDT