Eugene Eric Kim wrote:
> Slides from my presentation on purple numbers are available at my web
> Comments and questions are welcome.
Although Eugene posted this message to a smaller group, I am cross-posting
here, because I think it deserves a lot of attention.
The presentation Eugene gave was, in a word, brilliant. We all know what
"purple numbers" are, and most of us have an idea of why we want them,
but Eugene did a magnificent job of summarizing the important points and
putting them in bullet form succinctly, so they hit you right between the eyes.
I'm happy to say that I originated (or at least think I originated) some of the
thoughts that were captured in the presentation. The two that come to mind
are document as a (structured) "view" of paragraph nodes, and email replies
that take advantage of granular addressing. But contributing one or two
thoughts is not the same as creating a masterful summary of a huge, complex
picture that can easily become overwhelming.
By zeroing in on "purple numbers", Eugene reduced the problem to one
of managagable proportions -- the problem of getting stuff authored with
them. He focused on a few easily recognized benefits among HTML
users, thereby sidestepping the potential for other, more grandiose uses
(and the problems that inevitably attend such attempts).
In this section of this message, I'm going to try to capture the most salient
Eugene's remarks, in order to highlight them. In the next section, I'll list
a few thoughts that were sparked by the presentation.
1. Purple numbers (p#s) are important because they provide for
2. Granular addressabilitity is important for:
(Transcluding information from one document in another.)
(Copying an email message and removing parts you're not
concerned about is "a poor man's granular addressibility".)
(The foundation for knowledge-based systems.)
d) Annotating and Revising
(A small quarrel, here. I would have divided this into two
items. Annotationg would be one. Referencing would be
the other. When he spoke about "revising", he appeared
to mean the ability to name the section under discussion.)
(I'm adding this one. The ability to reference a subset of
a document, as with a hypertext link -- only with the author
having had the prescience to create an anchor that would
allow it, or requiring the user to inspect the underlying HTML
to find what the anchor is.)
3. Purple numbers also offer a quick "visual revision history".
(You can see where things have been removed and
4. Hierachical IDs present a couple of problems:
a) In table structures, they often don't apply well (especially with
complex row- and column-spanning cells).
b) The "hierarchy" in an HTML document can be difficult to
discern. (HTML tags aren't nested, and there is no enforcement
of ordering. For example, I use H1 for a document title, H5 for
a byline, and then H2 for a section heading. Or H1 could exist
in a table, and on and on...)
5. Eugene's Purple script (Perl and XSLT) translates XML structures
to HTML, adding purple numbers. It also rewrites the original
XML, adding purple numbers so they can be preserved from
version to version.
a) His document structure for writing looked great! What was it?
b) He said he could construct PDF, too. (Yes? Today? Or is
that a future thing? If today, how????)
c) He's thinking about redoing the Perl translator in Java.
(He'll love the 1.4 regular expression package added in 1.4!)
6. Murray's Plink program (Java) works on XHTML. It does a
great job of adding p#'s, if you're working in xhtml.
A few thoughts that occurred to me as the presentation went on:
1) I wonder if there is a version of SmallTalk that runs on the Java VM
yet? If so, I feel sure that the Augment client could be transported to
2) I wonder how difficult it would be to modify a browser so that it
recognizes transclude links? I mean, suppose a reference looked
like this: <a href="..." type="include">. Would a regular browser
ignore the "type" attribute, and display the link? If so, I custom
version could do the processing to quote the material in the
3. Interestingly, whether a link should point to the latest version of a
node, or to the original version, is a function both of the user and
and the node. For example, if I quote a particularly pithy saying,
I might want to quote that version, so I know I get that pithy saying,
even if the author mucks it up later. On the other hand, even when
I think I'm interested in a particular paragraph, even if it is modified,
such wholesale modifications could occur that no longer says
anything remotely like it used to say. In that case, the authoring
tool would need to create a branch, so that existing references could
refer to something relevant. (Eugene raised the latter issue. It's a
fascinating one to consider. I confess to having no great insights on
the subject, at this point.)
4. The ability to use the Purple system boiled down, at the end, to having
a good XML editor that people could use to author documents in
reasonably WYSWIG form. Possible options:
* ArborText Adept
The original and still the best. But very pricy. Around $1,000
a seat, I think.
Works well when you have a stylesheet. Doesn't work so
well when you don't.
Java-based. Open source. Availalble at alpha works.
Simple. Works well. I use it.
An editor that looked interesting, but which I never got around to
Finally here's a great summary page that reviews many of the XML-
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This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0.0 : Fri Oct 26 2001 - 16:14:03 PDT