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March 8, 2006 » 10:31 am

Announcing the Hyperscope Project

One of the new projects I have the joy of being involved with this year is Doug Engelbart‘s Hyperscope. Doug recently got a bit of NSF funding to build an Open Source prototype of his vision for a Hyperscope, and Doug asked me to lead the project.    (KAT)

You can read more about the project on the project blog. In short, we’re replicating the original hypertext system’s (Augment) browsing (jumping) and viewing capabilities in Firefox.    (KAU)

Why is this significant? Because even though most of the world knows that Doug Engelbart built the first hypertext system in the 1960s, very few people have ever seen and experienced the system first-hand. And boy, is it a doozy. Doug continues to use the system every day, and it has capabilities that no other system has today.    (KAV)

We want the world to see these features, and we want the world to have the opportunity to learn from them and to integrate them into their own systems. We also want the world to realize that these are not features for features’ sake, but are part of a much larger vision of how society can (and must) get collectively smarter.    (KAW)

This project — and Doug’s larger vision — is about improving society’s ability to collaborate. And that’s why I’m involved. We’re not building code for code’s sake (although the code will kick ass). We are kicking off a larger community conversation about how we can improve collaboration, and how we can and should improve our tools to augment our capabilities.    (KAX)

Join The Community    (KAY)

We’ve got a fantastic core team in place. Brad Neuberg is our lead developer. I’ve written about Brad’s coworking efforts, but I haven’t written about how he’s a kick-butt developer who’s doing wild things with AJAX. More importantly, he’s also a deep thinker, which is an absolute requirement to be successful in this position, a leader in the Open Source community, and a lifetime Engelbart fan (not a requirement, but it didn’t hurt).    (KAZ)

Also joining us is Jonathan Cheyer. Jon’s a long-time member of the Collaboration Collaboratory, and he’s also the tech lead for the Computer History Museum‘s NLS/Augment Restoration Project. I’m pretty sure he’s the most proficient Augment user under 40, and I’m quite certain he knows more about Augment’s internals than anyone else under 40.    (KB0)

What makes the project even more fun is that we’ve been working with folks from Doug’s original lab. His daughter, Christina Engelbart, is program manager and is also sharing her insights into how the system was used as well as her knowledge of Doug’s larger vision. Jeff Rulifson and Charles Irby, the first software leads in Doug’s lab, have shared a lot of their knowledge with us, as have Harvey Lehtman and Raylene Pak. These gatherings have not only been extremely educational — stories galore — they have been tons of fun, and we want to encourage other ex-ARC folks to touch base with us and be part of this new community.    (KB1)

Some additional acknowledgements: Mark Finnern is one of Doug’s biggest supporters, and he has given Doug a valuable forum at Future Salon. He also hooked us up with Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt of Firefox fame, two very cool guys who spent some time with Doug and whom we hope will continually engage with this community. A big shout out also to Philip Gust, also of the NLS/Augment Restoration Project, Dorai Thodla, who experimented with an early prototype of the Hyperscope in Java, and Dave Thomas and his OpenAugment team.    (KB2)

Please join us! Subscribe to our mailing lists and blog (and weekly podcasts), and participate on our Wiki. I’ll mostly blog about the project on the project blog, but I’ll also occasionally discuss stuff here. Brad is also blogging about the project. We’ll also be at SuperHappyDevHouse this Saturday doing an Augment jam session.    (KB3)

Blue Oxen Associates    (KB4)

I’m involved with this project for personal and professional reasons. As I said earlier, this is not just about building a piece of code. It’s about engaging with the community at large and building a movement that falls squarely within the mission of my company. The Hyperscope project will help ground larger conversations about how we can and should improve tool interoperability and usability. More importantly, it will ground larger conversations about process and the bigger picture.    (KB5)

At a very concrete level, the Hyperscope falls well within our goal to bring these deeper ideas into existing tools. Not surprisingly, the Hyperscope should integrate very easily with PurpleWiki (as well as other Wikis), providing a new, slick and useful browsing capability. As the project progresses, I’m looking forward to evolving our tools, as well as seeing other folks evolve theirs.    (KB6)

On a personal level, Doug is why I’m in this business. I’ve never been happier with my work than I’ve been in the past three and a half years at Blue Oxen Associates. I bring people doing meaningful work together, I help them collaborate better, and I do it in an open way that hopefully has a much larger societal impact. It’s intellectually satisfying and emotionally fulfilling. And I wouldn’t be doing any of this had it not been for Doug, who’s been a mentor, a friend, and a cheerleader.    (KB7)

In a way, starting Blue Oxen Associates was my gift to him — a commitment on my part to carry out his larger vision. But working on the Hyperscope is a much more concrete way of returning the favor, and I look forward to doing this for him and for the community at large.    (KB8)

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