Thursday, February 11, 2010

Evolutionary files: an impossibility?

In his formulation of the Evolutionary List File, Nelson foresees the need for a file format that can adapt to users' needs. ELF allows for writers to create and navigate through everything from poems to slideshows. The ultimate goal of the ELF is to be able to adapt to anything the user may want to use it for. In order to meet this goal, the ELF has been designed to be extremely general, so that it can accommodate almost any different purpose that it might need to be applied to. In the end, the file format only specifies a few key elements, for example that it should use zippered lists. The strength of the ELF lies in its generalness; it could still be useful as a container for today's digital content. Unfortunately, this is also its greatest weakness. By leaving so much room for adaptation, Nelson has only specified a skeleton of a file format; it seems that, in trying to anticipate the needs of the future, Nelson has created a file format so general as to be almost meaningless.

Is it possible to design a file format that will truly meet the needs of future users?

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