Alph Project News


Most of the Alph software sprang into existence last fall (2016), with our own metadata formats and interfaces, and with our own linking models still on the drawing board.

When the W3C delivered the Web Annotation Data Model recommendation in February of this year – a spec that describes something very much like a xanalogical linking model for Web resources – we took a developmental pause to read into its implications for our own work.

We like Linked Data and JSON-LD. And, we like Web Annotations.

So, and alph.js are undergoing a transition to work within the Linked Data ecosystem.

The ?describe interface will remain available, but the return format will now be JSON-LD. Our vocabulary is still being ironed-out, but as it develops it will be made available at Media metadata responses are presently modeled on the MediaObject types.

The response document for ?link queries will also be JSON-LD, though its structure is still in flux.

Furthermore, resources now send the "Link:" header indicating that they are Linked Data Platform Resources, and will respond with metadata in JSON-LD, RDF, Turtle, or N-Triples if the according "Accept:" header is sent.

With regards to linking, it is our intention to support import/export of Web Annotations. We're very close to being able to do that, in a limited way. We're currently still debating the merits of continuing to work on our own link document format/model. We may opt instead to extend the Web Annotation vocabulary slightly.

Some documentation is being written for our terse fragment selectors, and the way in which we've implemented the element(), point(), and range() XPointer schemes.

Documentation generally is, we fully acknowledge, nonexistent. Frankly, as "we" are one man (howdy!), and as Alph is at this time a personal project, it will remain a low priority until we've got something working well enough to try and attract interest from the wider world.


In the first quarter of this year, it was my great privilege to work with Ted Nelson himself on some designs for the alph.js/Docuplextron software.

We discussed building a Xanadu®-branded version of the Alph client, and decided, as an initial collaborative experiment, to try simply to turn the existing software into a great "flying" text editor.

Ted has described in various media the way that the terms "cut" and "paste" were perverted at Xerox – how words that once described the tactile and visual manipulation of fragments of text became jargon for "hide this text" and "insert the most recently hidden text". Ted wanted – has always wanted – a computer text editor that restored the meaning to those words – an editor in which you can slice a manuscript into strips ("noodles", as Leo Tolstoy called them), rearrange them, duplicate them, view them side-by-side, delete them, and, of course, paste them together into new compositions. The Docuplextron was a decent 2.5D zoomable workspace already, so it seemed imminently doable.

Ted also wanted color, and grouping – features that would help people work on big, or complicated, or big-AND-complicated pieces of writing.

Export to plain-text was a must, and for all the little scraps of text that weren't quite ready to be baked into a file, the browser would simply store them, along with the state of the workspace, in localStorage. Simple!

Ted had loads of ideas—the man is, if you grant him nothing else, a fount of ideas—and I gave it the old college try to get them implemented. Around the end of March though, I'd hit some kind of a wall. It is an unfortunate fact of my creative practice that I lose the ability to work in a medium every few months, and I must switch. I couldn't program for a while. I got back to the (literal) drawing board.

I've been there and am now getting back again to Alph. A little bit.

I didn't get all of Ted's designs implemented properly/adequately, but his contributions to the software are numerous and invaluable. I've got a personal to-do list of things I want to get made, fixed, and refined in Alph right now, but when the time comes I look forward to rejoining my efforts with Ted as our collaboration was never terminated, only postponed.

As it stands, the Docuplextron is, in my opinion, really a very handy flying text editor. I've written this with it.