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ObjectiveSpace? is best represented in some form of linear mapping of the domain space like VirtualReality or topological maps. These representations aim to be direct, transparent representations of the objective, external domain; although since they are socially constructed as representations, they may be flawed. (Monmonier and De Blij, 1996) However, not all navigation is "spatial." For instance, following an AcademicCitation is semantic navigation. You are following a lexical (semiotic) reference to derive greater context. (One may alternatively call this context space; cf. WhatIsContext).

Since sign and signifier collapse in digital media (cf. MetaphorInversion), these semantic references can form a perceptively navigable digital space. That is, you have the WorldWideWeb (the semantic space) and a WebBrowser to navigate through it. It's fitting one of the first browsers was called NetscapeNavigator. The Web was built originally to link AcademicCitations together into one fluid hypertext, but it has extended to a general purpose HyperMedium. Links in the Web may be on any phrase, item, object--any sign--and may point to nearly any text of any variety for any purpose. Some have claimed that the Web formulates the dense intertwingly dendritic connections of a GlobalBrain, but even if you don't go this far, it is pretty clear the Web is a semantic space rather than a vividly objective space. All parts of it are language.

Semantic space may be embedded in an objective space, although the opposite is impossible. Consider a library. The AcademicCitations may take you from book to book in that library, but you can also find similar books by looking nearby on the same shelf. The spatial embedding is also semantic as it is socially constructed. Arguments about the politicization of cataloguing systems abound.

Alternatively, nothing objective is known without being modified semantically as all external information must by read by the subject. Thus, objective space is also read by the observer. This creates a subjective, semantic perception of the space known as spatiality. You signify spatial items, like "chair" and "floor", and you ignore (fail to construct) other spatial items like dust or the sign on the wall. Further, your mental perception does not map linearly to the space; few (none) know the exact dimensions of every item in the room. Do you know how big (exactly) your computer is? Or is it perceptively just computer or maybe at best box?

This semantic reading can be disembedded or separated from the ObjectiveSpace?. One can draw a semantic map of the spatiality for instance, but that still reflects spatial relationships between objects. For a simple example, a "cocktail napkin" sketch of a theatre:

             Upper Balcony
             Floor Audience
             (Orchestra pit)
      |                         |
      |          stage          |
      |                         |

One can also fully separate and disintegrate the semantic labels given to spatial objects. In ChatRoom?s, one may hear metaphoric, fictive discussions of "talking around the fireplace" or "going outside to play." These tropes pull in connotations of the object space as read by the participants, albeit separately, but we assume CommonContext. However, this becomes a linguistic, semantic game, divorced from the external frame--there is no fireplace that all participants could agree on as being the fireplace they are sitting around; it is just a construction. Thus there are no spatial relationships between these methaphoric locales to navigate, and thus perhaps no semantic space (though perhaps it is a discrete space).

Melding the two concepts, people often pull their readings of objective space into their purely linguistic, semantic discourse as a metaphoric shortcut. Everyone knows from the RealWorld what the fireplace means, so social conventions are cued automatically. To enhance the spatial metaphor, navigation may be oriented and non-overlapping to fit the Euclidean space we inhabit. For example, most MultiUserDungeons allow one to move "North, South East, West" which reflects (objectively) the underlying data structure of a mesh or grid. Moving north is unambiguous, as you will never enter a room to the south, east, or west by moving north. However, the space is still a metaphor, constructed socially as a text, and only objectively reflects the units of represention of that text (the data structure). Some MUDs consequenlty allow these rules to be subverted, say by adding teleports (hyperlinks) between rooms, or even throwing out Euclidean space altogether preferring the full expressive power of a graph.

Nonetheless, we can argue that there are different perceptions of the space from the point of view of author and navigator. While the author has the power to construct the space as metaphor, the navigator (the audience, participants, what have you) is trapped by the objective, external structure of the space as constructed by the author. That is, if I only put one door in your room, you are constrained to use that door to move out of the mathematical space of the room (ignoring random access). Similarly with web links, you can only follow links that I build for you.

Thus it is meaningful to distinguish a third space, the SocialSemanticSpace?, where the authors and navigators are one people, and thus I can make a door or a link if I want one. These are comparably to MUDs and the Web: MOOs and wikis.


Monmonier, M. and De Blig, H. J. (1996) How to Lie with Maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226534200 (alternate, search)

Dourish, P. and Chalmers, M. (1994) Running out of space: models of information navigation. HCI'94, Glasgow, 1994. http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~matthew/papers/hci94.pdf

Small detail: I don't think that "The Web was built originally to link AcademicCitations together into one fluid hypertext"; it was built to keep track of organizational stuff. The following proposal describes nodes (web pages) as representing "People, Software modules, Groups of people, Projects, Concepts, Documents, Types of hardware, or Specific hardware objects".


An interesting aspect not mentioned above is that time used to also be a semantic space, but the clock and the calendar rationalized it just as the Cartesian coordinate system rationalized space. -- SunirShah

The UseNet newsgroup hierarchy is clearly a SemanticSpace as an ontology cannot be rationalized in the sense that one can predict the names of future newsgroups, or in other words, newsgroups are indexed nominally. However, although the creation of all semantics is a social activity, since UseNet newsgroups are entrenched onced created through the voting process or the alt.* hierarchy process, they lose their negotiability, and thus they become subject to limited resource-based conflicts such as topicness. A more agile method to EnlargeSpace is a fully SocialSemanticSpace? where the semantics remain fully open to negotiation throughout their lifetime (which may be tightly bounded, unlike newsgroups which usually live on despite traffic). That is, space is created as a reflection of where the people are, versus ArchitecturalCollaboration? forcing people to go to certain spaces. Or to restate this, the crowd shouldn't follow the space, but the space should follow the crowd. -- SunirShah

SemanticSpace seems to be tied to RepresentationConfusion through CreationMyth?s.

Language does not simply symbolize a situation or object which is already there in advance--it makes possible the existence or appearance of that situation or object, for it is part of the mechanism whereby that sitaution or object is created. (Mead, 1934, p. 78)

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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