2015-03-19

Text = Data + Style

We used to consider the Web as an hypertext, a smart and wonderful extension of the writing space. It is now rather viewed and used as a huge connected and distributed data base. Search engines tend to become smart query interfaces for direct question-answering, rather than guides to the Web landscape. Writing-reading-browsing the hypertext, which was the main activity on the first Web, is more and more replaced by quick questions asking for quick answers in the form of data, if possible fitting the screen size of a mobile interface, and better encapsulated in applications. Is this the slow death of the Web of Text, killed by the Web of Data?
For a data miner, text is just a sort of primitive and cumbersome way to wrap data, from which the precious content has to be painfully extracted, like a gem from a dumb bedrock. But if you are a writer, you might consider the other way round that data is just what you are left with when you have stripped the text of its rhythm, flavor, eagerness from the writer to get in touch with the reader, in one word, style. Why would one bother about style? +Theodora Karamanlis puts it nicely in her blog Scripta Manum under the title "Writing: Where and How to begin".
You want readers to be able to differentiate you from amongst a group of other writers simply by looking at your  style: the “this-is-me-and-this-is-what-I-think” medium of writing. 
Writing on the Web is weaving, as we have seen in the previous post, and your style in this space is the specific texture you give to it locally, in both modern graphical sense and old meaning of way of weaving. The Web is indeed a unified (hyper)text space where anything can be weaved to anything else, but this is achieved through many local different styles or textures. It would be a pity to see this diversity and wealth drowned in the flood of data.
We've learnt those days that Google is working on a new kind of ranking, based on the quality of data (facts, statements, claims) contained in pages. But do or will search engines include style in their ranking algorithms? Can they measure it, and take it into account in search results and personal recommandations, based on your style or the styles you seem to like? Some algorithms are able to identify writing styles the same way other ones identify people and cats in images, or music performers. If I believe I Write Like I just tried on some posts of this blog, I'm supposed to write like I. Asimov or H.P. Lovecraft. Not sure how I should take that. But such technologies applied to compare blogs' styles could yield interesting results and maybe create new links that would not be discovered otherwise.
The bottom line of our data fanatics here could be that after all, style is just another data layer. I'm not ready yet to buy that. I prefer the metaphor of style as a texture. Data is so boring.