Glacial Erratics

Long Live(d) Purple Numbers

May 26, 2005

Phil responds to Eugene's participation in the recent chatter about purple numbers, returning to the issue of numbers versus names. Some late night thoughts in response:    (PNG)

Phil says numbers make sense in a blog, because you're already there when you decide to make reference, whereas in a wiki you're not. He says:    (PNH)

My initial discussion with Chris, was, in contrast, about purple-numbers in wiki, which is what E.E.C. and Blue Oxen have always appeared to me to stand for.    (PNI)

I'm sorry I helped to extend that impression. Purple numbers have never been thought of as a thing that just live in wikis or for that matter just in any environment. They facilitate cross medium reference and reuse. Purple numbers may be optimized for synthesis, but they are predicated on ethic (or at least goal) of interoperability. Where they show their most value is content reuse between blogs and wikis and email archives.    (PNJ)

Phil suggests a sort of "purple names":    (PNK)

But we could imagine markers that weren't meaningless. For example, if I could make a link which simply included the first X letters of a paragraph to be matched. If I could link to the previous paragraph in this post by making a link like this :    (PNL)

   [[PostName#OK?. But]]    (PNM)

What, I ask, happens when that paragraph has its first six characters change? Or it moves to another page? The link breaks.    (PNN)

This transclusion uses just the purple number:    (PNO)

a high degree of flexibility in referencing content from anywhere, even content that will change its location on the network  T    (PNP)

If the content at PM3 is moved from my blog into my wiki, and I were running the latest PurpleWiki code, the transclusion would continue to work. If I changed the text from "a high degree" to "a significant degree", the transclusion would continue to work.    (PNQ)

Yes, right now it has a horrible, nasty, unfortunate interface, but that interface is helping to flesh out an infrastructure that will support some stuff with nice interfaces down the road. In the meantime it does some cool stuff that takes a short while to get used to but provides huge benefits if you're willing to pay the price.    (PNR)