Newspaper or Blog?

Somebody (Instapundit?) linked to this piece by David Gelernter, who has some interesting ideas about online newspapers. Gelernter thinks they could be radically improved by introduction of a cardfile-like user interface that he describes in detail. He also links to Scopeware, a company he’s involved with that develops and markets UI software of the type he discusses.

The Scopeware UI paradigm seems like a natural. It also looks likes an evolutionary improvement on the UI designs we use in blogs. (Which raises a question of why Gelernter didn’t mention blogs as precursors and prototypes for the new newspaper paradigm he envisions.)

I’m eager to see if Gelernter’s UI comes eventually to be used by online newspapers, but I’d be more interested in seeing it applied to blogs right now. Blogging software such as Movable Type already makes it easy to aggregate data feeds, search posts and categorize them by theme — features Gelernter says are important (and they are, though most bloggers fail to make efficient use of them). How hard would it be to create a MT main index template and style sheet to display posts as an over-the-horizon cascade of index cards in the way Gelernter suggests? Not very, I’d bet. Maybe someone will do it, and maybe then, if it becomes a popular blog UI, newspapers will consider using it. I doubt the newspapers will be the first to introduce it, though.

9 thoughts on “Newspaper or Blog?”

  1. Jon, I am still surprised by your new MT blog’s speed compared with the old blogspot crawl, even taking distance into account.

  2. Unfortunately, Gelernter has patents that cover the ScopeWare (previously MirrorWorlds) interface. And they are NOT interested in licensing their patents, at all. Unless of course you are a giant mega-corp with a patent portfolio to swap. A startup I was co-founder of 2-3 years ago tried to cut a licensing deal, with above typical percentage royalties, but they just don’t wanna do it.

    His previous company only licensed his Linda distributed computing patents to Sun when they had beaten all of the cash they could out of the market for years, and didn’t see the revenue stream increasing.

    Gelernter is fond of using software patents, which is probably why much of his work, which I find very insightful, hasn’t had a larger impact in the software industry. ScopeWare is a slow dog, but they’re not interested in a superior competing implementation of his interface innovations, even with royalties on your gross.

    Which in my mind makes this a puff piece slinging his wares. :-) [/rant]

  3. Interesting, thanks. Gelernter’s glaring ommission of blogs from his argument supports your contention that this is a puff piece.

    But given the generality of much of the UI idea here, how restrictive are his patents, really? The “cardfile” metaphor has been around for years, as have search engines, categorization, and forward/back buttons. If I build these components into a blog template, can Gelernter make a case for infringement?

  4. It patent number 6,006,227, a “Document stream operating system”. Note that just because it mentions the words ‘operating system’ that an infringing system wouldn’t actually have to be an OS. And re-reading it, it looks like RSS aggregators may be in violation, at least of some of it’s many claims.

    He also wrote (among others) an article in the WSJ in 1994, referenced in the patent application, titled “The Cyber-Road Not Taken” about the preceding version of ScopeWare, LifeStreams (or at least it’s conceptual forebearer). His book “Mirror Worlds” is what all of this is most broadly described in, it’s ultimately supposed to be a time-ordered VR system, with selectable sets of objects being displayed. It’s a visual-chronological ordering of information, without having to worry about “where” things are.

    Imagine a visual stream of thumbnailed content, which was everything from documents you edited, to blogs you read, to email you get, to edits of things by co-workers. All with a time-ordered context, with subsets instantly definable on the fly. Or have all the blogs you read be one stream, email another, etc. It’s all a subset of your ‘everything’ stream.

    Quite brilliant, and much better described in a number of articles about it I’ve seen on occasion over the years. But it’s all locked up in a patent. And the closed source proprietary implementation sucks.

    And Gelernter gets a bully pulpit politically and on tech issues (self promotional puff pieces, usually) by dint of being the only survivor of an attack by the Unabomber.

    I just don’t want to wait till I have grandkids to run with some of his ideas, some of which I had in parallel as a tripping hippy around the same time, when I was on hiatus from computers and media for a few years.

    Sucked to come back and find some of your deep thoughts had patent applications out on them :-(

  5. As a UI designer, I’m fascinated by Gelernter’s notion – not so much the patent as the idea.

    If I ever get MT working, I”ll have to try out an idea of my own…

  6. I looked at the patent, though not closely (and I lack expertise). Is it possible that it already covers some concepts that are widely used in blogs, not just RSS aggregators but also time-stamped organization of information that can be redisplayed, also by time order, by category, as MT permits?

    A simple over-the-horizon-cardfile MT template wouldn’t be much different from what many of us use now.

  7. I hadn’t even THOUGHT of the RSS aggregator application of the patent in question at all until re-skiming it’s claims when I saw your post here on his article, which I had read earlier that day linked from somewhere else (so my pot was already turned up to simmer :-)

    This is yet another example of why software patents suck. You are ALWAYS stumbling into them as you re-invent wheels you didn’t know existed. And software patents are granted all the time for things that have wide prior art, either in the oral tradition, or in books not covered by journal searchs, or just raw code and libraries that aren’t academically documented, but are widely copied.

    Yes, Gelernter is brilliant. I have no beef with his philosophy of ‘pay me’. It’s that he’s taken the Apple model of ‘own the whole thing as a closed proprietary system’, rather than the Microsoft model of ‘license wherever you can’.

    Wanting to own the whole enchillada isn’t very helpful for fundamental user interface innovations, as is the case with most fundamental computer science. Apple tried to claim ownership of the GUI, but they relied on coypright law and justly lost.

    Gelernter, or at least his business managers, may doom us being set back a couple more decades by their greed.

    This is becoming endemic in software, and makes me at times wish I were something other than a computer geek and serial entrepreneur, but oh well.

  8. Note that Gelernter doesn’t mention blogs are precursors to his idea because they’re not. His patent application arguably pre-dates them, and his own underpinning prior art CERTAINLY does.

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