I'm at Online Deliberation 2005, a conference at Stanford on how people discuss and argue online, including participating in the democratic process. Doug Engelbart is telling us about the "life-changing epiphany" that occurred at the moment when he decided, "Let me design a professional goal which will maximize the contributiuon my career can make to mankind." And after some research, the goal he chose was: "As much as possible, to boost mankind's collective capability for coping with complex, urgent problems."
Doug turned down a job at Hewlett-Packard in 1957 because he wanted to work on computers and when he asked, they told him there was no chance HP would get involved in that.
When he finally got to work on computers, the first thing his team started doing was a word processor. Right away they wanted links, and they didn't just want a link to a document — they wanted a link with addressability to a specific object in the document. And they wanted alternate views, not just an emulation of a page. "That's old technology," says Doug. "How about a view that folds up and shows you just the first line of the paragraph?" He recalls someone who reacted "Gosh, that makes you want to write so that the first line tells you what's going to be in the rest of the paragraph!"
The paper i'm presenting at this conference is about a treemap-like visualization of e-mail discussions that emphasizes the first sentences of paragraphs, among other things.