12.0429 Scientific American articles

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sun, 14 Feb 1999 16:50:07 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 429.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Sun, 14 Feb 1999 16:51:21 +0000
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@vma.smsu.edu>
Subject: Articles of interest

Humanist readers who are not regular subscribers to _Scientific American_
will find two articles in the March, 1999, issue of interest.
The first is an extensive "Profile" article devoted to Ben Shneiderman,
known to some of us for his work on the Perseus Project in its earliest
instantiation. Shneiderman runs in different directions than many with
regard to such things as Artificial Intelligence, etc.: most briefly, he
seems an exceptional example of the sort of approach to computing I sense
among many Humanist readers - i.e., let's shape our use of computers at
least in part in light of already extant human priorities and sensibilities
(including these sensibilities as manifested and explored by the fine arts),
rather than the other way around. A nice factoid gleaned from the article,
reflecting Shneiderman's influence on interface design: the use of
highlighting words to indicate a hyperlink - now a standard element of
Web design - was pioneered by Shneiderman as an alternative to numbered
menu items.
A second sign that humanistic approaches to computing may not be entirely
swept away by Microsoft and e-commerce is the "Cyberview" article, which
examines how far open-source software (such as the venerable Linux operating
system) are managing to effectively compete with commercial products.
The short answer seems to be that the sort of communitarian (my term),
"give away the good stuff and share" approach is gaining ground - partly
because freeware is not always in conflict with commercial goals. On
the contrary, one of the emerging discoveries is that companies paying their
programmers to develop, distribute, and support free software (as in the
obvious case of Netscape) enjoy profit returns with regard to their
commercial offerings, now effectively advertised through the give-aways.
(Another interesting factoid: according to this article, the Apache Web
server, a free package, still accounts for more installations than all
other server packages combined.)

Last year, a commentator (Gary Chapman?) observed that cyberspace - defined
in part by just the freeware/hacker ethos represented by the development
and distribution of Linux - had been effectively replaced by "e-world," the
world of electronic commerce. While there is much merit to the observation
- these two articles gives some support to the hope that the more communitarian
side of the Net may not be altogether lost.

On that happy thought - cheers!
Charles Ess
Philosophy and Religion
Drury College
Springfield, MO 65802 USA

Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>