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Sites with Associative Structure

I've run into a few different web sites that not only have associative structure but also allow you to add your own associations. The most explicitly associative I've seen so far is Everything; here's a partial explanation, from How does linking work?.

Linking comes in two breeds: hard links, and soft links. Hard links are embedded in writeups by putting square brackets around a word. These links never really go away, unless the writeup is destroyed.

Soft links are the more virulent of the two—these are the links at the bottom. Any time anybody goes between two nodes a link is created or strengthened. The links are catagorized by which type of node they go to, and sorted in order of strength (most often travelled links are at the top).

As I'm sure it's intended to, this reminds me of something I heard about how minds work, that associations are strengthened by repeated use. Thus, Everything should act as a kind of collective mind—ideally, converging to a more useful set of associations than any individual contributor has. My own limited experience indicates that it hasn't done this yet, that the associations are still fairly random, but it's possible this can be corrected by further tuning of the algorithm. In the meantime, it's still interesting to look at and free-associate with.

By the way, there's a new and improved interface, Everything2, which I think shares the same content.

Another interesting associative site is the Portland Pattern Repository. I'll explain what it's like by comparing it to Everything, but if you really want to know what it's like, you should just go look at it.

  • Using the terminology above, the links are all hard links; the traversal of links has no effect on the site.
  • The content is focused on, but not restricted to, a particular domain: software design patterns.
  • The content created by one user can be edited freely by other users; the (surprising?) effect is that the site is moderated.

I think it's mainly as a result of the latter two points that the signal-to-noise ratio is much higher than on Everything. One thing I wonder about is how much the style of the original author, the one who writes the first few pages, determines the style for the entire site. There are other sites using the same technology (wiki), so this is something that could be investigated.

All of the above sites are evidence that you can have a lot of fun with just Perl, a database, and a web server.


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@ June (2000)