Designing Frontends

Appreciation for diversity led to the distinction between the Udanax Green frontend and backend. The backend is a highly generalized system that provides the storage, linking, and versioning functionality required by every user. Rather than trying to design an ideal or exclusive frontend, the plethora of user needs will be met in the diversity of third-party, independently created frontends.

What will frontends look like? One design challenge will be to coherently present links, versions and multiply-authored documents of staggering complexity.

The more difficult and novel issue is that hypertext gives us the ability to concretely represent complex social interaction. How will we visualize things which have always been intangible? For example, how will we visualize social argument structures?

Over centuries, cartographers have found ways to represent complex, 3-dimensional terrains; frontend designers will invent representations of even more complex 3 and 4-dimensional information. A mountaineer or an army tactician sees a map representing terrain lines, trees, valleys, rivers; they know from the map where lie the critical points for defense, attack, communication and observation. We fight battles on conceptual terrains without maps. We all know what a debate is: thrust and parry, evidence, supporting documentation, pros and cons, plausibility arguments, alternatives which lead to confusion, tenuous arguments where every step is crucial. But what does an argument look like? How do you see the structure of a controversy when you jump into the middle of an ongoing debate? How do you tell which are the crucial sub-issues? How do you tell if someone is right or wrong? Is the argument on track or hopelessly derailed into a dead-end? How do we represent the terrain of a debate - and do it so that the leader of a climbing team or a commanding officer can easily scope the terrain, know what key areas to investigate, which paths to avoid, and which to navigate?

Developers of hypertext frontends must build new metaphors to translate old concepts and to introduce new ones. They have the challenge of making the reader feel comfortable and oriented. And Udanax will supply the underlying hypermedia handling mechanisms, with version control for databases of global scale, that will make these developers' successes possible.