time machine 05.31.2007, 9:31 AM
posted by ben vershbow
The other day, a bunch of us were looking at this new feature promised for Leopard, the next iteration of the Mac operating system, and thinking about it as a possible interface for document versioning.
I've yet to find something that does this well. Wikis and and Google Docs give you chronological version lists. In Microsoft Word, "track changes" integrates editing history within the surface of the text, but it's ugly and clunky. Wikipedia has a version comparison feature, which is nice, but it's only really useful for scrutinizing two specific passages.
If a document could be seen to have layers, perhaps in a similar fashion to Apple's Time Machine, or more like Gamer Theory's stacks of cards, it would immediately give the reader or writer a visual sense of how far back the text's history goes - not so much a 3-D interface as 2.5-D. Sifting through the layers would need to be easy and tactile. You'd want ways to mark, annotate or reference specific versions, to highlight or suppress areas where text has been altered, to pull sections into a comparison view. Perhaps there could be a "fade" option for toggling between versions, slowing down the transition so you could see precisely where the text becomes liquid, the page in effect becoming a semi-transparent membrane between two versions. Or "heat maps" that highlight, through hot and cool hues, the more contested or agonized-over sections of the text (as in the Free Software Foundations commentable drafts of the GNU General Public License).
And of course you'd need to figure out comments. When the text is a moving target, which comments stay anchored to a specific version, and which ones get carried with you further through the process? What do you bring with you and what do you leave behind?
Troped on May 31, 2007 11:41 AM:
You need Scrivener!
I think Scrivener handles this task particularly well because it will allow you to "snapshot" your text at any particular point, rather then remembering every little spelling change.
Of course, Scrivener does a whole lot more. I've found its organizational features and export features to be better than and unlike any word processor out there. To put it simply, Scrivener is not a word processor, it is writing software.
bowerbird on June 1, 2007 3:16 AM:
didn't we already do this? process-recorder.
Jeremy on June 21, 2007 2:08 PM:
It might be useful to look at the tools already designed for people who do massive amounts of document comparison - on Mac, that would probably be FileMerge, available free as part of the developer tools.
In-line change comparison (like Word) and side-by-side comparison (like FileMerge) both have their advantages, depending on the kind of writing and the nature of the edits. If you have more change data, timelapse comparison (where you can fast forward and reverse through all changes, like a video clip) is nice too, and sometimes people use their Undo / Redo stack to browse past changes if it is deep enough. User a snapshot-browser with a Time-Machine-like interface is an interesting idea - again, I think the utility depends very much on the nature of the changes one is looking for.
As a thought experiment, imagine calling up a FileMerge style two-pane interface, with comparison bands - however each pane is actually a Time-machine style stack of versions, and you can shift either stack to bring a different pane to the front for comparison. Something like that might combine fine-grained change analysis with rapid version browsing.
dan visel on June 21, 2007 2:18 PM:
Oh wow - thanks for pointing that out. I'll dig up a copy of that & and try it out.