Transformative Approaches Project
Interactive database use: Augmented hypertext editing
Transformative Approaches Project |
1. Fuzzy and incomplete information
The databases for this Encyclopedia and the Yearbook
of International Organizations are maintained through constant re-editing
in the light of new information from international organizations. The entities
described may be organizations, world problems, strategies, values, or
concepts. The conventional approach of "entity equals record"
of course applies in the case of entities which are well-defined, stable
and unambiguously named. In many cases the UIA is however dealing with
fuzzy or incomplete information, only vaguely related to clear subject
categories. It is up to the editors to identify an entity by a naming process
which may only be provisional. In this sense entities have varying degrees
2. Editing evolving networks
The real challenge lies in editing evolving networks of entities,
especially where material in one entity record may have to be moved to
another. Networks may evolve through the emergence of new challenges, through
acquisition of new information or through new insights into how those networks
can be more usefully ordered. In this sense the evolution is a reflection
of a learning process, both of the international community in highlighting
concerns and of the editorial process itself. In the case of world problems,
for example, an entity may be named by a collection of from 1 to 10 phrases,
each of which captures aspects of it. But the editing process, in response
to new information or insights, may call for some of those naming phrases
to be split off into a new problem entity -- possibly a broader problem,
a narrower problem, or a sister problem. Portions of the descriptive text
may also need to be moved. Corresponding to this splitting operation, there
is of course a merging operation by which entities are fused together.
The pattern of cross-references between entities may also be modified in
a similar manner. These processes are summarized in Figure
1 (for entries) and Figure 2 (for relationships).
3. "Live" cross-references
Control of the actual movement of text is of course a standard feature
of any text processor. These facilities have already been augmented by
allowing the UIA editors to embed "live" cross-references in
the text. Thus an entity's descriptive text may have many links to other
entities (possibly in other databases) present as editable "text".
Any changes in the cross-references are updated in the distant entities
when the text is saved (as in any relational database).
4. Facilitating more perceptive editing
The UIA is concerned to develop its software framework to guide the
editor in making more perceptive judgements about how the network can best
be refined in the light of new information. These judgements involve a
sense of hierarchy (broader, narrower) and a sense of functional relationships
(aggravated, reduced by, etc) between entities. Hierarchies may not be
simple tree structures. An entity may be grouped under several broader
categories. Special problems include avoiding redundant links and inserting
links to previously isolated entities which may not be readily identifiable
in the database through any keywords in common with the portion of the
network on which the editor is working.
5. Editorial experiments
Working under conditions of incomplete and fuzzy information, editors
can be confronted with information on what appears to be a new class of
entity. In the case of a "world problem", for example, this is
usually signalled by a new class of "negative operator" defining
the problematic nature of the problem. There may be a whole class of problems
based on an existing operator such as "unethical" (eg "unethical
physicians", etc). But a possible new operator such as "incompetent"
may suggest a parallel class (eg "incompetent physicians" etc).
There is a case for editorial (and user) tools to generate classes of
entities experimentally to determine their effect on the database --
and to eliminate them if necessary. With problems it is as much the pattern
created by these negative operators which structures the database as the
pattern of subjects.
6. Augmenting editorial conceptual skills
This "hypertext editing" process is as much art as science
and can only be developed with experience and natural aptitude. What is
currently sought is a way of augmenting the conceptual skills of the editor.
These can perhaps best be described through one or more metaphors:
- (a) Knitting: There is a definite sense of knitting together
entities into patterns. The challenge for the editor is to hold and refine
that pattern in relation to entities that might or might not be drawn into
it. To be able to visualize the pattern would be of great value.
- (b) Gardening: There is a sense of planting entities over a
conceptual space in an aesthetic and functional relationship to one another.
Entities and networks may be pruned or given scaffolding on which to develop
when new information becomes available.
- (c) Ecological succession: There is a sense in which the database
is always evolving and never complete. At any time, the entities are arranged
and related like plants and animals within an ecosystem. But the relationships
are changing continually -"hardy" pioneer entities providing
niches for more specialized and subtle entities, the entire system elaborating
in diversity and complexity as time goes on. The challenge for the editor
is to optimize the degree of integrity and system resilience in anticipation
of unforeseeable future developments.
Clearly such hypertext editing is a new kind of skill which will be
basic to the development of many future databases and their multimedia
access. Many of the required features are relevant to the access needs
of sophisticated end-users.
7. Editing network representations
The capacity to edit networks as graphic visual representations would
offer many advantages, provided that such changes are integrated back into
This facility represents a combination of hypertext editing and the
"networking mapping" facilities described below. As in CAD, PCB,
CASE and other design packages, the editor is dealing with relationships
in a visualized form, as opposed to linear text. The editor "draws"
in new relationships, moves relationships, or deletes them.
8. Use of network maps as alternative indexes
Whether as editor or end-user, related facilities would be the use
of the network map as an index, permitting the user to navigate through
the network. Text relating to particular nodes could be called up when
required, and then edited or annotated according to access rights.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential