This idea tries to fix a dilemma of written language. When writing something down, our language guides us through a well-structured path. If we don’t want to lose the direction we are heading for, this path is pretty narrow and there is not much room for explanations. But there is a difference between our train of thoughts and our written language. Our thoughts are not so straight. We have reasons for the steps we take. Using a metaphor again, our thoughts are like side roads of a highway. If we integrated them all into our highway, the highway would be much longer and it would take much more time to reach our destination. This problem was identified in the analogue world before and they partly tried to fix it with the *-sign. Today we are living more and more in a digital world, so there is no need to retain restrictions from the analogue world. Annotations no longer have to be written at the end of a text and there is not one damn good reason why they should be that short.

My suggestion:
We need a new letter-symbol, an interactive one (in this blog post I will use *² for it). When reading an ePaper, I may wish to see annotations. I then click on the symbol and a text box opens up, overlapping most of the current page. The size and look of the box, the text symbol, the operation, the control functions, all this would have to be further discussed. Most of all, an international standard (W3C) would be very good to prevent compatibility problems between different platforms and devices. It would also make sense to be able to integrate other media (audio, picture, video).

I would describe the difference between such an annotation and a link as follows:
“Asterix to the power of two” is for “longer” explanations that are not worth putting on an extra sub-site. *² also has differing contents from a link– a link brings you mostly to external contents, whereas *² would mostly link to its own contents, providing a seamless integration into the main page (if supported by the author). This would make it possible to write short texts offering a lot of further information, which you could call up according to your interests and reading habits.

1st possible application:
While writing this down, I came up with the idea of creating a new letter symbol. The end of the preview sentence would be a good place to demonstrate my annotation idea. Imagine there would be a “*²” letter and when clicking on it, we would get the text: “The new symbol should have a high recognition value… should integrate harmoniously into the typeface…. should be accentuated by color, related to a link, but with an other color than a typical link, etc.” All information given in this annotation would be only for interested people. People who just fly over the text wouldn’t be disturbed by too many details. *² is in a certain way a stylistic device that can heighten the worth of a text when rightly used.

2nd possible application:
Another very good example is eBooks. Who is telling us how books have to look like? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a book showing us what we wanna see? Yes, I think it would! A text box with a tag adding function would be the answer. Before beginning to read, I would select/de-select different tags in the index. This would integrate some passages and remove others. My parents, for example, really like information about environment and  culture (as many others do), but I’m not that interested in it, so I would choose not to read that kind of environmental information. *² could bring customization to eBooks and allow it to be closer to different human tastes. Like all techniques, *² will have limits, but they will be further removed, compared to analogue books. Imagine a book where you can decide how much extra information you get and how detailed this information is, when learning something new.

3rd possible application:
Online newspapers could use *² to shorten their messages and at the same time present in-depth information. Conclusions could be “out-sourced” so that the well-informed reader can skip them. Here too, the author needs a sense of proportion (out-sourcing too much information is as bad as including it all). Or when they write about an opinion poll, they could give further details like, what type of people were interviewed, who was the sponsor, what the questions were, etc. In a rudimentary way, info boxes serve the same purpose as *², but *² would be better in a lot of cases, because it wouldn’t force the writer to limit their contributions that much.

Ideas for navigation and design:
I prefer a simple user interface where I have as much freedom as possible. It should be possible to choose different layouts and to design new ones. I’m dreaming of a text box design without buttons and continuous border crossover. The size should be proportional to the text size shown (20% shorter horizontally – 40% vertically). If the box is not big enough for the contents, I suggest adding a dragging function to move the text up and down (as on certain cellphones – otherwise: mouse wheel/arrow keys). Depending on how fast you move the text, you would get more or less far into it. A double click anywhere in the box should close it, except on a link (this would guarantee easy use for PC & smartphone user). I prefer an aesthetical design – not like Windows 95 – that enables me to add different buttons and scrollbars, if I wish to.

The examples above show the many possibilities of *² and how it could better structure digital papers. The whole range of this idea is not visible at once (because of our “old thinking habits”) – but you should get it with some imagination. Other, further going ideas and uses should develop over time. *² has the potential of strongly affecting future digital writing styles. Unlike a common annotation, *² provides not only an addition, it can provide further extensions within a well-adapted frame. Digital technology is pretty young, we haven’t yet completely realized its potentials, nor what limitations have become obsolete.

PDF: Asterisk to the Power of Two – A Digital Upgrade

Creative Commons: Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany

Draft-for-Ubuntu-Gate-Search-pic1Short introduction:

My idea is to improve the search and treatment of data by taking only a few, easy steps. It consists in connecting several archive files, different search functions and “open with”.

How would it work?

For quick display of the search results, it is necessary to index and order the data. A program runs all the time in the background carrying out this task, and resumes work when work load is low. It only checks certain folders and takes into account certain file endings (path, size, name and further information recorded e.g. ID3 tags, GPS information within picture) and creates mini-pictures. At the end of the search, data selection could look like this in the home directory:

odt, doc, pdf, mp3, ogg, jpg

The program shouldn’t stop at that, but should also list the address book and the emails received if the user wishes to.

It should also be possible to switch the search function from local to Internet, to have access to the browser bookmarks in the search window and to the various search engines.

The search window is there to give quick access to the data the user is looking for and to ignore the rest.





The search function can be implemented by mouse click or key combination. I suggest using Ctrl+Alt+F as a shortcut. It should be possible to drag and drop the search results (e.g. to copy them on a USB key).

The table below illustrates the search mode per key shortcut. It shows how easy it would be, and the resulting possibilities. I use the word Start to avoid writing Ctrl+Alt+F each time. The blue color is for the Internet mode.

Keys used Resulting action
Start (empty search window) + Enter

Opens home directory.
Opens standard website (according to browser pre-settings)

Start (empty search window) + “arrow down” Displays the last 10 documents used
Displays the last 10 websites browsed

Start (empty search window) + “arrow up” Displays the 10 programs used most frequently (displays the search list from bottom to top – the bottom hit is automatically highlighted)
Displays the 10 bookmarks used most frequently (same principle as in local mode)

Start (empty search window)

+ “arrow to the right/the left”

Changes search mode from local to Internet
Changes search mode from local to Internet (in Internet mode, you can also choose the search engine by hitting the “arrow to the right”). After search completion, you alternate between search modes by pressing just one key

Start + “any text”

Search engine displays first 10 hits
Displays website selection and possible bookmarks

Start + “any text” + Enter Standard program opens marked hit (first hit is automatically highlighted)
Program processes first hit (opens selected website/bookmark)

Start + “any text” + arrow down/up Mark switches between search hits
Mark switches between search hits

Start + “any text”

+ 2 quick hits “arrow down”

Jumps to the next 10 hits
Jumps to the next 10 hits (if it works)

Start + “any text” + “arrow to the right” + Enter Secondary program opens highlighted hit (by pressing again “arrow to the right” user selects another alternative program)

The search window should “understand” the following:

– It puts the files last or often retrieved higher up in the list.

– If the user writes for instance “Musician’s name” and “Music” in the search window, the results should be mostly music files.

If the user selects a music title and presses the Enter key, and a music program has already started, the new title should appear in the play list.

– The search engine should be able to carry out simple instructions, as long as there is no other file with the same name (“new mail”, “odt new”, “start gimp”, etc.)

It should be possible to choose index terms for certain folders like “m” for Music….

– Depending on the data displayed, the search should deliver differing information (e.g. with a big difference between a picture file and an address entry).

– The search system should cope to a certain extent with spelling mistakes!

– If the user selects “Archive file” for the second time (when an archive file is already open), the program will ask him whether to put the file into the existing archive.

– When surfing the Internet, user should be able to drag & drop all possible Internet search engines into the Ubuntu search window to add them to the search engine list.

If there is no entry in the search index, the program suggests a “complete standard search” for the term requested.

Possible search configurations

A right mouse click in the search bar gives access to the options. The user can then configure the folders/data and the order in which they appear (you could explicitly exclude folders/data – possibly directly through the “standard folder option” as well). Among other things, it should be possible to select whether to have “mini preview images” and whether the Internet search engine is allowed to submit suggestions for search.

It would be wise to encrypt files because the internal archiving and the structured treatment of personal data may disclose many details about the computer’s owner. Access to the encrypted search index should be possible only with root rights.


It is clear to me that it will probably be impossible to develop all the functionalities I am suggesting, yet I find it necessary to think about them and describe them as well. They may feed other people’s inventiveness and help us tread new paths together. The search method I have described would be a very powerful tool functioning on a rather intuitive basis. Computer use would become faster and more efficient. It could certainly be used in cell phones as well.

To make it short, I would be delighted to run my computer and other devices with the help of such a search window. I truly hope that some developer will be as enthusiastic about it as I am, and that he will turn this wonderful idea into reality.

Addition – Further ideas

Actually, I feel that two buttons should be added to the archiving program – “downsize pictures” and “email archive”. The last one would open a new email and attach the corresponding archive file.

The first one would offer the option to alter certain (previously selected) pictures. In a second step, the user could alter picture size and compression level to save disc space.

Several options should be available:

high/average/low compression/downsizing

– the selected pictures could be downsized in such a way that all the archive data do not exceed a certain data size (this function would make it much easier to send pictures via email, as there would be no more manual downsizinge.g. > 4 MB).

A picture preview would be very handy, too – to check picture quality after downsizing.

Dear readers, thank you for your interest. I hope that you will carry my ideas further into the world.

Greetings – to you and the world!


Ubuntu Brainstorm – Vote for this idea now!

Draft for Ubuntu-Gate-Search – PDF