Daniel Miller

SWIM Stock-Take Part 1

If this is a career-long project, where is it, in the context of the past, present and future?

The basics

SWIM has stood for a few different things throughout its lifetime. It currently doesn’t stand for anything, other than the metaphor of swimming through all of your personal information. If I remember correctly, it once possibly stood for Simple Web-based Information Management. It was also a full-blown web CMS, a few times over.

In short, SWIM is intended to be a tool in the Personal Information Management space.

Practically, PIM is concerned with how people organize and maintain personal information collections, and methods that can help people in doing so.

SWIM was originally inspired by the desire to write hypertext/IF, create other nonlinear narratives (such as art installations) and develop Alternate Reality Games. I was already a writer and technologist; the combination of the two fields was a natural area of interest.

More recently, I’ve been interested in developing the tool to help with all kinds of writing, and have envisioned it as a tool that could surface all relevant information from a personal corpus, in real-time. It would be really useful for this post, for example, bringing up all my previous posts about SWIM. Preferably, I could dump every last note, image, link, etc. into SWIM and have it search all of that as well.

This is a very old concept. Vannevar Bush imagined something very similar in his Memex:

The memex (originally coined “at random”, though sometimes said to be a portmanteau of “memory” and “index”) is the name of the hypothetical proto-hypertext system that Vannevar Bush described in his 1945 The Atlantic Monthly article “As We May Think”. Bush envisioned the memex as a device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications, “mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.” The memex would provide an “enlarged intimate supplement to one’s memory”. The concept of the memex influenced the development of early hypertext systems (eventually leading to the creation of the World Wide Web) and personal knowledge base software.

There are a ton of tools for all the above purposes. I have tried many. I will review some in a follow-up post.

The beginning

My very first blog post ever (using Blogger/Blogspot at the time) was about nonlinear narratives and ARGs.

The very first iteration of the thing that was to become SWIM was just an idea, a PowerPoint presentation. I have no idea if that presentation still exists anymore. In fixing up the original post, I can see I hosted images of the slides on the server space provided by my ISP at the time (remember when ISPs would give you your own web server space?).

The next exploration was the original brain-dump, inspired by BMW’s online film/ARG series.

I also simultaneously discovered The Beast ARG and Magestic; artists working in nonlinear narrative and tooling around storyboarding and business organization and screenwriting. I had a novel idea for a nonlinear web CMS.

And that’s how this whole obsession got started. Next installment: the various incarnations of SWIM in the 16 years since.

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