Thursday, 7 February 2013

Speeding up hyperlinks: topics

In a conversation with Jon Husband earlier today, we discussed hyperlinks - and how they've changed this world. In my view, hyperlinks form zero-threshold access to any and all information just a single click away. Whenever I scavenge the Web for info, I open up links in new tabs until there are 20 or so of them, and then scan the results, greatly helped by search, maybe jumping back and forth or drilling down deeper and deeper.
Compare that with the old fashioned way I had to gather information, which at best resulted in a day or so in one or more libraries where some or most books would be out on loan and I'd only have the full result set after a week or two, sometimes more - leaving me with a metre of paper books I had to plow through

Scanning them was simple yet elaborate: read the index, pick the most appetising chapters, and from each of those carefully read the first and last paragraph. Mark in mind or on paper if worthwhile, and continue search - I used to write 10-page papers in a single night doing so

Now, we have hyperlinks - and I still miss something. I call it topics, and here is how I envision them to work

Whenever I Google or click a link, I end up at a site. Sometimes blogs, sometimes corporate sites, forums, whatever. As in the old days, I then use my browser's search functionality to look for the word or words I want to find. Too many times, I don't find them, or in little quantities - and it takes me a minute per page to assess whether it's a picking or not

That should change - and it can. Computers are here to automate tedious human tasks, and this is one of them

Imagine I search for enterprise and integration and common sense? I will get some 3 million results as of today, and when I click one of them, I'll be led to a website. End of story - it's the same as finally getting the book from the library, and opening one.
Now what if the page will highlight the actual search terms I used? It would spare me the effort to use browser search to look for them, and save me 30-60 seconds per page

The hyperlink would need to be extended, and the browser would need to support the extension - and I would be really, really happy (and probably a few others too)

Here's my proposal: I look for the words in the example above, i.e. enterprise, integration and common sense. One of the links returned would be (#humblebrag warning!)

How and why common sense will beat REST

which in fact contains:

<a href="" topics="enterprise,integration,common sense">How and why common sense will beat REST</a>

The href would be the same, linking to the page as usual, with the user-legible anchor displaying as usual. The topics would be new, telling the browser to highlight those words upon following the link, all of them at the same time.
Of course, colours would be much appreciated to distinguish one topic from the other, as this could end up in a brightly highlighted page that would give new meaning to the phrase "information overload"

Colour range would best be simple following the binary colour scale, going from black to white (best leave both and their nearest friends out as that would not make distinguishing them very easy), handing out the darkest colour to the first topic, a less dark one to the next, and the brightest one to the last.
A convention on highest and lowest colour range would have to be worked out, as simply ordering colours by their numerical value will not give the desired result - but I'm sure someone with better math skills than I can come up with a good idea

Of course, anyone could add topics to links. I might use the same link in different blog posts, choosing different topics in a different order even, depending on the context they're in at that very moment

What do you think? And could someone build a prototype please ;-)

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