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Monday, July 07, 2003

The Philosophical Basis of Knowledge Representation and the Web 

I have come to the conclusion that it is really Peirce's distinctions of Qualisign, SinSign and Legisign (tone, token, type) that is more relevant to my understanding of how the web in general and weblogs and wikis in particular, may evolve. I see a raw blog as representative of a tone. It is an expression of natural language that has no definite interpretation or bounded meaning. I see the URI or URL as a manifestation of a token. It is a pointer of arbitrary form to a specific thing. One of the main functions of pidgins (a term used that I have borrowed from Bryan Thompson to describe a simple easy to use set of language gestures) is to provide a convenient way of generating links to lazily created content on a Wiki. What I think is missing is the ability to identify type information. Stating the obvious -- only when formal distinctions between issue, position and support etc. are made can something like an IBIS system (Issues based information system -- also from Bryan) a reality. It is type information that allows meaningful abstraction and aggregation, combining apples with apples and oranges with oranges, as well as the proper proportions in a fruit salad. While pidgin can be used for formatting and other things, we are primarily talking about the creation of a link, or a token that sits in a sea of tones and points to another sea of tones. In order to move beyond just pouring more water into the ocean, we need a system of types out of which a structure of knowledge can grow and evolve. Originally, I tried to add all kinds of representational distinctions to an increasingly complex local language. However, now I am seeing a more limited role for a pidgin, as a way of designating typed links. Most current Wiki pidgins are just creating links to tones, so there is no need for type information. In an IBIS system, instead of [tone1] and [tone2], which is turned into <a href="token1">tone1</a>, <a href="token2">tone2</a>; we will need to represent [type1: tone1] which is turned into <type1><a href="token1">tone1</a></type1>. The representational complexity is not within the tone of the page with the pidgin, but what is pointed to, external to the page. It is only important that the pidgin be able to create a typed link. It is up to the external system to provide a context for the creation, editing, and representation of a resource. This may be through a GUI, XML or some or other kind of representational system, which is as simple or as complex as it needs to be. However, I may now have constrained what I mean by pidgin to be something so small, that it may no longer be valid to refer to it as a pidgin. Interestingly, this also seems to align with Peirce's other triple: Icon, Index, Symbol <Symbol:Type1><a href='IndexToken1'>IconTone1</a></SymbolType>. Here there seems to be a relationship between symbol and namespace, the indexical function of a URL and the iconic text or picture that is associated with the link.

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