Oneslate as a personal knowledge base

In 2013, Yule et al. [1] note that “it has only been recently, with the advent of HTML5 and related standards, that the entirety of the NLS/Augment system can be implemented in the browser in a standardized fashion”.  They describe “what has changed to finally allow the realization of a half-century old vision”  and “why it took so long” (that vision’s goal being “increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems”).

Hypertext systems are one category of personal knowledge base (PKB) tools discussed by Davies in 2011 [2], along with graphical knowledge capture tools and note-taking applications.  Davies describes the personal knowledge base (PKB) as “an electronic tool through which an individual can express, capture, and later retrieve the personal knowledge he or she has acquired”.  A present day look at available routes to fruition for an NLS/Augment or Memex like system includes not just technical capabilities, but also what it would “take for a true PKB solution to appeal to a wide audience”.  Davies asks what characteristics would be necessary “to generate the benefits envisioned by Vannevar Bush” through his hypothetical Memex, and he makes recomendations for future personal knowledge base research.

How does Oneslate, in its present implementation, stack up to Davies’ PKB recommendations?  The following overview of Oneslate’s capabilities addresses each point in his section titled “The PKB of the Future”:

Transclusion support?
Davies: “A PKB data model should support transclusion in some form. Allowing elements to appear in multiple contexts is simply the only way to faithfully capture human knowledge.”
Oneslate: supports transclusion; any node can be included as a sub or super node in relation to any other node, with all contexts being additive and navigable

Structural support?
Davies: “Graph, tree, category, and spatial paradigms should probably be combined, so as to leverage the advantages of each.”
Oneslate: supports graph and tree (directed acyclic graphs with primarily tree interaction).  The backend supports category (keyword tagging), currently hidden by the front end.  Future work could additionally support the spatial paradigm (nodes placed on a canvas with free location assignment).

Davies: “The most suitable architecture is probably a knowledge server with a database backend that supports both desktop and handheld clients.”
Oneslate: knowledge server with database backend supporting desktop and mobile web browsers.

Universal association?
Davies: “Users must be able to associate any two knowledge elements anywhere in their PKB.
Oneslate: supports associating any two knowledge elements anywhere in the PKB.

Snippets with source attribution
Davies: “PKB interfaces should make it easy to assimilate ‘snippets’ from the objective information sources a user encounters. As the research of Anderson and others has shown, our knowledge consists largely of bits and pieces of information that we have gathered review articles from diverse sources, synthesized into a mental framework that allows us to make sense of it. As the user is materializing their framework explicitly in a PKB tool, it should be easy to grab the short excerpts that they find relevant and import them into the knowledge base in a painless way. This is equivalent to the simpler form of transclusion, as defined previously.”
Oneslate: supports pasting quotations as node titles, supplying source citations, and reusing source citations via autosuggest (similar to the “simpler form”)

Standardized import/export
Davies: “Standardization between PKB vendors needs to take place so that a user’s knowledge is not inextricably bound to a particular tool. A PKB should conform to these standards through some kind of import/export facility.”
Oneslate: does not presently support standardized import/export.

Davies: “Finally, researchers should take a good look at the tools that have been adopted on a wide scale—blogs or wikis, for instance. Though heavily based on free text rather than richly interconnected knowledge elements, one of their functions can be seen as makeshift knowledge management. Perhaps the best route to a successful PKB would be to take advantage of the broad adoption of such tools and enhance them with the capability of expressing knowledge in a more structured form.”
Oneslate: permits the live generation of PNG images of tree structures focused on a specified root node, which can be saved and included in blogs or wikis, and linked to that part of a live, interactive Oneslate application.  An unimplemented format that may be suitable for common access or embedding is a text version of the hierarchies or graphs which are currently interacted with largely through a scripted graphical display.

So, approximately what would it take to support all aspects of Davies’ recommendations, in theory to best support the realization of Bush’s goals in describing the Memex?

  • Implementing category and spatial paradigms (e.g., turning keyword tagging & keyword columns on; developing a canvas option for free node placement)
  • Implementing standardized import/export (e.g., OPML with unique node IDs, RDF, etc.)
  • Implementing a text view
  • Possibly developing native mobile applications for enhanced handheld usability (the web application supports down to XGA, but a mobile-optimized interface may be worth invoking)
  • Possibly supporting additional integrations (e.g., enabling remote embedding, API, plugins, etc.)

It is apparent that while Oneslate may serve as a private web layer to enable using additional Hypertext functionality, it is not a Memex or Augment implementation.  But we already knew that (you can see this blog’s point by point comparison with the Open Hyperdocument System framework template in a prior post).

[1] Yule, D. and Blustein, J. Of Hoverboards and Hypertext. Design, User Experience, and Usability. Design Philosophy, Methods, and Tools. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Volume 8012:162-170, (2013)
Design, User Experience, and Usability. Design Philosophy, Methods, and Tools
Lecture Notes in Computer Science Volume 8012, 2013, pp 162-170.
[2] Davies, Stephen. Still Building the Memex, Communications of the ACM, 54(2):80-88, (February 2011)