December 14th, 2005

conchair, arisia

nonlinear text

Back in '96, I used to send out minutes to the concom meetings on paper, to about 100 addresses. I made this into a little newsletter and included things like budgets or org charts, and also announcements and a few other tidbits that had not come up at the meeting. The minutes themselves were formatted into a little newsletter the way I'd done newsletters before: two columns, with section headers in a distinctive font. What I did not realize is that the newsletter is a nonlinear form. The side-by-side format encourages jumping from one section to another, and the headlines provide an easy visual hierarchy. Of course, sending such a thing on paper would be considered archaic today; it comes in email instead. But I had not realized until just recently how much structure I was losing by putting everything in one email message. People would read the first three sentences, not see anything they cared about, and delete the message. Then they would complain that I hadn't told them something important. So now I take care to send out my concom meeting minutes in a nonlinear format. Right now that's multiple email messages, of varying length, separated thematically. But it might not be long before we move to something capable of supporting a more complex structure.