Compendium Archive & Network 2021

CONTEXT… Those of you who know my R&D will know that I have a long-standing interest in the role that software can play in human sensemaking around wicked problems, a form of “augmenting human intellect” (Doug Engelbart). A powerful example is structured, visual hypermedia that makes tangible the ways that ideas, data and arguments connect with each other and documents.

This is certainly a story about the evolution of an interactive visual tool for thinking—but far more interestingly, it’s about the co-evolution of software with a set of practices to develop human fluency with the tool. Those practices were (in historical order) Dialogue Mapping, Issue & Argument Mapping, and Knowledge Art.

Here’s how I told this story in 2014, tracing my work back to Engelbart’s vision of personal computing and collective IQ, and here’s a quick overview of key books and papers.

COMPENDIUM… provides extremely flexible hypermedia linking between conceptual objects (e.g. questions, ideas, arguments), data and documents (local/online), through a visual user interface. As a hypertext system for thinking with, connections can be made in multiple ways: spatial proximity and visual linking within a view, plus tagging and transclusions across views (i.e. embedding a node in multiple views). Views can contain each other non-hierarchically (A can contain B which can contain A). Search can be refined by node types and tags. This 2014 RAE Impact Case distills the research –> impact narrative.

It is an open source, desktop Java application with a full SQL database, with XML and SQL import/export, and HTML publishing. In the course of its development, it was interoperable with (at the time state of the art) Jabber (open source instant messaging) XML, and semantic web RDF.

HYPERTEXT HISTORY… Compendium is descended from the pioneering hypermedia system gIBIS (graphical Issue-Based Information System) at MCC Labs led by Jeff Conklin and Michael Begeman, which led to the commercial corporate memory product CM1, renamed Questmap. Compendium was then developed over the course of around 20 years R&D starting in the early 90s at Bell Atlantic labs (White Plains NY) led by Al Selvin and Maarten Sierhuis, continued at NASA Ames Research Centre by Maarten on the Mobile Agents project providing a human-agent science team tool, in collaboration with my team at the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) from 1995-2014. The gIBIS/CM1/Questmap/Compendium lineage exemplifies an influential strand of hypertext R&D that preceded the invention of the Web, which like Xerox NoteCards, exemplifies what Frank Halasz called hypertext for idea processing — focusing on visualising and managing the connections between nodes as a form of intellectual work. You can learn a lot more about the intellectual lineage of these ideas in this brief history, another account, on this blog via the compendium tag, and on the memorial archive of Compendium co-inventor, my colleague, PhD student and friend, Al Selvin.

COMPENDIUM INSTITUTE… The Compendium Institute coordinated the international user/developer network, feature requests, code releases, research and training. Software development has been on pause since 2013, and may well not be continued, since much of the world now expects web-based tools (indeed see the great work by DebateGraph, and the KMI team developed quite a few). However, there remains an active user base of people who value the speed and functionality of a Java desktop app which continues to run on current Mac/Win/Linux Java.

I have therefore archived the Compendium Institute website for posterity, since it contains lots of resources:

SOFTWARE… You want the tool! I’m trying to keep links alive, and Java seems to be holding up remarkably since development ended around 2016.

  • If you’re a developer, then you can get the most recent CompendiumNG, from the CompendiumNG (next generation) wiki.
  • I can also offer this Mac installer version of CNG which requires no code knowledge to get running
  • If you’re non-technical on Win/Linux then this version of Compendium comes in an integrated installer:
    • KMi Open University version 2.0beta with advanced experimental features (like Maps supporting video annotation): Downloads page | QuickStart Guide for Mac or Windows *follow the guide*
    • CogNexus Institute also offers download links for a slightly older version

COMMUNITY… Since Yahoo closed down their groups end of last year, I’ve created a new Google Group which you’re warmly invited to join if you want to stay connected with fellow users and some of the original team. Collectively, we will hopefully be able to answer any queries about Compendium’s functionality and design rationale — and who knows, possible futures…

One Response to “Compendium Archive & Network 2021”

  1. Simon, thanks for making this accessible again! To me, Compendium was the starting point of many years of research and practitioning in the area of visual problem structuring/diagramming/argument mapping/problem structuring methods.
    Have a great 2021!

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