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August 15, 2003 » 6:41 am

A Brief History of Purple Numbers

A few weeks ago, Chris Dent posted a brief history of Purple Numbers, noting, “This is likely full of errors as the story as I’ve heard it is incomplete and I was unable to check some things because the network path to California was busted while I was writing.” His account is pretty good, but there are a few holes here and there. Most of my clarifications are nitpicky. In case you, my dear readers, haven’t realized it yet, I am very anal.    (7W)

Chris differentiates NLS from the mouse, hypertext, GUIs, and so forth. NLS was actually the totality of all of these things. Chris also says that NLS had a “graph based document storage model.” This is somewhat of an ambiguous description, and depending on how you read it, is not strictly true. Finally, NLS did not have transclusions, although its architecture could easily have supported them.    (7X)

In between NLS and the first appearance of Purple Numbers on the Bootstrap Institute’s web site, there was a graphical Augment client written in Smalltalk. The first Augment PC client was MS-DOS-based. Doug still uses this! In the early 1990s, a contractor wrote a GUI client for Windows, which displayed statement IDs (what we call node IDs) in purple. According to Doug, the choice of color was either his daughter’s, Christina, or the author of the client. In any case, this is why Purple Numbers are purple.    (7Y)

Bootstrap Institute first used Purple Numbers to display structural location numbers (what we call hierarchical IDs) for Augment documents converted to HTML. Soon afterwards, Frode Heglund suggested making the numbers a live link, so that it would be easy to copy and paste the node’s address.    (7Z)

On January 31, 2001, I released the first version of Purple, which was a collection of Perl and XSLT scripts for adding node and hierarchical IDs to documents and generating HTML with Purple Numbers. I believe my most important contribution at the time was recognizing that node IDs were more useful in a Web context, where documents were largely dynamic, than hierarchical IDs. On April 24, 2001, Murray Altheim released plink, a Java program similar to Purple, except that it worked on XHTML files.    (80)

My OHS Launch Community experiment (June 15 – November 9, 2001) proved to be a fruitful time for Purple Numbers. Murray and I agreed on a standard addressing scheme for Purple Numbers. I implemented a MHonArc filter for adding Purple Numbers to and extracting Backlinks from mailing list archives, and tool that generated HTML with Purple Numbers from Quest Map files.    (81)

I also started thinking about PurpleWiki for the first time, and hacked a first version based on TWiki. This experience gave me a better understanding of the right way to implement PurpleWiki, and it also gave me a healthy distaste for TWiki. When Chris joined Blue Oxen Associates, we made PurpleWiki a priority, and the rest is history. Chris’s account from there is pretty complete.    (82)

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