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Iceberg Article    (body)

An Iceberg Article is a single page of writing which links to a larger collection of supporting documents, resources and services.

The parent article (the "tip") is not merely a summary - it is a complete (albeit brief) treatment of the topic.

This is important - the iceberg article's tip is not an introductory paragraph or a leader - it is a complete and actionable overview of the topic at hand. One could read only the tip and still receive most of the value of the article.

The purpose of the Iceberg format is to convey an idea in the medium of the web, but without the distractions of that medium. The author wishes to leverage the richness of a hypertext web of multimedia while avoiding the diffusion of a flat, non-heirarchical resource.

The Iceberg Article is a hierarchical format. The tip of the Iceberg Article is the parent and the body article is the child. Other resources like a wiki or a discussion or a changelog, etc., are siblings of the body and all of these may themselves have children in the form of additional linked resources.

Hypertext media is very powerful and should be leveraged on the web. However, circa 2019, most articles written on the web are simply electronic forms of magazine or newspaper or journal articles. They sacrifice the power of networked hypertext documents and diffuse their content over inestimable scrolling pages of text.

When we read something on an electronic screen we are doing something different than when we read the newspaper or a magazine. The format of what we read should, too, be different.

A hierarchy of information is implied in this format. The Tip is not just another web page and the links to the "below the surface" content are not the same as links between peer web pages. Further, the Tip becomes an exercise in compressing language and meaning as it restricts itself to a single, text only page.

Literacy can be defined as not merely the technical ability to read and write, but as the higher order abilities of exposition and condensation (compression and expansion).

"You were considered literate if you could take a classic verse and expound upon it at length (exposition) and take an ambiguous idea and distill its essence into a terse verbal composition (condensation). [1]

Compression and expansion of ideas are tools we can use to jointly create the Iceberg Article's tip and it's body.

It is important to keep the Tip uncluttered and free of images, links, notes, subscript and so on. The format implies that these are present, but hidden beneath the surface. The kernel of the topic can be digested thoughtfully and the depths underneath can be explored as needed.

This implies that the tip of the Iceberg Article may contain non-attributed work - since there are no notes or citations or subscripts. This is reasonable and easily solved by making sure that the body contains all of that work and the necessary attribution. It also implies that any Iceberg Article with attribution required must have a body.

It is possible that the compression of language involved in creating the Tip will obviate material that requires attribution and all such material will naturally find itself in the body anyway.

The Tip leads to at least one, but possibly many, supporting documents, resources and services. The minimum requirement is simply an expanded form of the tip (the "body"), complete with references, notes and links. Other resources and services that might lie under the surface are a wiki, a changelog, a software repository, additional supporting articles and reference pages and even a discussion forum.

In this way, a concise and complete treatment of a subject can serve as a gateway to an extremely deep and rich well of content that does not distract from the parent work.


[1]   Venkatesh Rao "Rediscovering Literacy" - - (local copy)

This quotation - and much of my original inspiration for the structure of the Iceberg Article format - come from this excellent article on literacy and the historical concept that literacy could be defined as the ability to perform "exposition and condensation"


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