Following a brief exchange with @lesteph last night, I thought it might be worth making a quick post about the idea of content or document transclusion.
Simply put, transclusion refers to the inclusion, or embedding, of one document or resource in another. To a certain extent, whenever you embed an image or Youtube video in a page is a form of transclusion. (Actually, I’m not sure that’s strictly true? But it gets the point across…)
Whilst doing a little digging around for references to fill out this post, I came across a nicely worked example of transclusion from Wikipedia – Transclusion in Wikipedia
The idea? You can embed the content of any Wikipedia page in any other Wikipedia page. And presumably the same is true within any Mediawiki installation.
That is, in a MediaWiki wiki:
you can embed the content of any one page in any other page.
(I’m not sure if one MediaWiki installation can transclude content from any other MediaWiki installation? I assume it can???)
It’s also possible to include, (that is, transclude) MediaWiki content in a WordPress environment using the Wiki Inc plugin. A compelling demonstration of this is provided by Jim Groom, who has shown how to republish documentation authored in a Wiki via a WordPress page, an approach we adopted in our WriteToReply Digital Britain tinkerings.
One of the things we’ve started exploring the JISCPress project is the ability to publish each separate paragraph in a document (each with its own URI), in a variety of formats – txt, JSON, HTML, XML. That is, we have (or soon will have) an engine in place that supports the “publishing” side of paragraph level transclusion of content from reports published via the JISCPress/WTR platform. Now all we need is the transclusion (re-presentation of transcluded content) part to be able to transclude content from one document in another. (See Taking the Conversation Elsewhere – Embedded Quotes; see also Image Based Quotes from WriteToReply Using Kwout for a related mashup).
(Hmm, although Joss won’t like this, I do think we need a [WTR-include=REF] shortcode handler installed by default in WTR/JISCPress that will pull in paragraph level content in to one document from a document elsewhere on the local platform?)
Now this is really what hypertext is about – URIs (that is, links), that can act as a portal that can pull content in to one location from another. It may be of course that the idea of textual transclusion is just too confusing for people. But it’s something we’re going to explore with WriteToReply.
And on of the things we’re looking at for both WriteToReply and JISCPress is the use of semantic tagging to automatically annotate parts of the document (at the paragraph level, if possible?) so that content on a particular topic (i.e. tagged in a particular way) in one document can be automatically transcluded in – or alongside – a related paragraph in a separate document. (Hmm – maybe we need a ‘related paragraphs’ panel, cf. the comments panel, that can display transcluded, related paragraphs, from elsewhere in the document or from other documents?)
PS If you have an hour, here’s the venerable Ted Nelson giving a Google Tech Talk on the topic of transclusion:
PPS here’s an old library that provides a more general case framework for content transclusion: Purple Include. I’m not sure if it still works though?
PPPPS for another take on including content by reference, see Email By Reference, Not By Value, or “how I came up with the idea for Google Wave first”;-)
PPPPPS Seems like eprints may also support transclusion… E-prints – VLit Transclusion Support.