The Electronic Labyrinth


In 1972, a team at Carnegie-Mellon University began development on ZOG (the name does not appear to be an acronym). In 1983, this system was installed on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, using twenty-eight networked PERQ workstations. It provided the crew with a task management system and on-line procedure manuals. Two of the principal ZOG researchers, Donald McCracken and Robert Akscyn, formed Knowledge Systems in 1981, and began work on a commercial product, Knowledge Management System (KMS). This was implemented as a distributed database using Sun and Apollo workstations, computers possessing high-resolution graphic displays. The software has been documented most thoroughly in "KMS: A Distributed Hypermedia System for Managing Knowledge in Organizations" by Akscyn, McCracken, and Yoder.

KMS is based on an extremely simple paradigm. Each screen may display either one frame (node) or two frames side by side (as in the Memex). Nodes may contain text and graphics. Reference and command links are available--these are indicated by a hollow or solid bullet. Two link types are available. Tree links indicate hierarchical or structural relationships; annotation links indicate associative relationships. The latter are denoted by having "@" as their first character.

The user interface is most notable for what it does not have: pull-down menus, buttons, windows, and so on.

KMS today is the result of rethinking many user interface design issues. Mostly, this has meant learning to do without things that previously seemed so necessary to us. We are trying to provide the KMS user with an environment in which there are few concepts to learn. (829)

The following list illustrates this concept:

Actions are initiated through the use of a three-button mouse. The on-screen pointer changes depending on its location to indicate available actions. In this way selection, block editing, and navigation functions are all provided without need for a menuing system. Additional global commands are available from a single line at the bottom of the screen. On-line help, importing, clusters, and versioning are all provided. Simple searches can be made on particular hierarchies of nodes. The results are displayed as a frame. A general-purpose scripting language, similar in scope to HyperTalk, is available.

KMS has accomplished its developers' goal of providing full hypertext functionality with a minimum of overhead. Along with Intermedia, it is the most highly developed hypertext system. The two stand poles apart, however, in their interface model.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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