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Transliteracies: Anne Pascual and Marcus Hauer at WRT: Writer Response Theory

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Continuing a series of posts on Saturday sessions at the Transliteracies 2005 Conference:

txtkit visualization

Anne Pascual and Marcus Hauer presented on txtkit, a powerful piece of text search and visualization software that first parses the words, paragraphs, and sentences of a text into a database, then adds real-time filtering. It also displays reading history (both personal and group). Like Literatronica, txtkit accomplishes this by recording all user actions - however I believe it differs in not requiring a central server architecture.

txtkit visualization

The graphical GUI “questions the relationship of dynamic to static media,” which is interesting given that the umbrella project mission was “accessibility for large textual sources.” The signature visualization of the project is a beautiful, slowly spinning 3D spiral. Green spines indicate matches while purple polygons record readings. It is data rich, but also enigmatic and intimidating, quite a different approach to making massive amounts of data “accessible” than, say, Google. However, given that the architecture is both modular and open source, critics and tinkers are welcome to write their own visualizers.

Of even more interest to the WRT crowd is the shell interface which allows users to read from the command line. Anne Pascual commented on the importance of text interfaces during the presentation “not only because computers are tools to manipulate languages, but also because languages are tools to manipulate computers” - well put. The txtshell component comes straight out of Unix paradigms, with abbreviated operation commands followed by parameters. This approach to search is not unlike the recent YubNub search engine, whose concept was reminiscent of even earlier efforts. Even Google is increasingly using “operators” as commands that return special results, e.g. “link:” “movie:” “site:” “weather:”….

With an increasing population of expert browsers, will search/reading return to the command line?

txtkit visualization

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