Monday, April 16, 2001
Scientist aims to order data like stream of consciousness
With virtual index cards, Scopeware creates desktop information reservoir
By FRANK BAJAK
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK -- The way we compute today is wrong-headed. Commercial software
is on the whole poorly designed, ugly and counterintuitive. It doesn't
leverage even a fraction of the tremendous computing power now available.
All the while, we fight a rising data tide with the crude tools of
precomputer era office clerks -- sorting e-mails, text and image files
into virtual folders. We waste hours organizing and searching for data.
The personal computer was supposed to free us from such drudgery.
This is David Gelernter talking; a Yale University computer scientist with
serious credentials -- painter, author, artificial intelligence theorist,
The brilliant computer design innovations of the 1970s -- born at Apple
and Xerox and mass-marketed by Microsoft -- were stale by the time the Web
arrived, Gelernter argues. The current prevailing "Windows-Menu-Mouse"
model is maddeningly obsolete.
Computing desperately needs a revolution -- a paradigm shift -- because we
all really want to organize data more organically, like the mind does,
Gelernter says. And we want that information easily available to us
wherever we go.
That's the idea, at least, behind a new program called Scopeware
co-invented by Gelernter. It proposes to fundamentally alter how we
"It always seemed to me that the most natural way to organize your
electronic life would be the way you organize your real life, moment by
moment," says the 46-year-old Gelernter, whose 1980s programming work was
among the first to enable multiple computers to work together on a single
Gelernter's renown as a guru of computing aesthetics drew him the nearly
fatal attention of Theodore Kaczynski. In June 1993, a bomb nearly killed
Gelernter as he opened mail in his office.
Ten months later, Gelernter sketched out in a Washington Post article what
would initially be called "Lifestreams" -- software intended to wean users
from file-and-folder dependency and let them organize data as if in "an
electronic diary or journal or scrapbook."
"I don't want to save bits of paper any more, nor computer disks nor
videotapes, nor do I wish to care about whether my home computer is
compatible with my office computer, or about any other such boring and
preposterous compatibility questions ..." wrote Gelernter. "I want my life
to be perfectly organized, and I want to spend no time whatsoever
In a telephone interview, Gelernter explained the software, which evolved
from a Yale doctoral thesis he suggested to co-patent holder Eric Freeman,
now director of engineering at Walt Disney Internet Group.
"Each new everything that entered my life would just be stuck on the end
of a time-ordered stream," Gelernter said. "The question, 'Where did I put
that thing?' would always be answered because the answer would be on that
A person's lifestream would originate with their birth certificate,
include wedding pictures, bills, bank statements, vacation video -- and
extend into future appointments. And everything would be immediately
accessible -- viewable chronologically in defined time frames and
searchable by key word, project, sender.
Too good to be true? Gelertner doesn't think so, though it's too early to
say how the market will receive it. Scopeware was only just launched last
month by Mirror Worlds Technologies Inc.
Gelernter is absolutely evangelical about the product: "I'm tuned to the
thing all day, every day. It's what's on my screen right now. It's on all
my screens, at home and at the office."
And the beauty of it is that the stream of cascading index cards on his
screen is updated constantly as new items arrive addressed to him or
generated by colleagues who authorize Scopeware to share the items with
[The article has a picture...
...with a caption saying...
David Gerlernter on March 21 2001 stands by some of his design work in his Yale
University Computer Science office. Gerlernter has developed a way to organize
information in a computer more organically. AP Photo
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