The next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) may be only available online and not in print form, according to the publisher in this recent article. This is a sentimental milestone from a past research project at the University of Waterloo to apply search and SGML to tag the Oxford English Dictionary and automate the work of lexicographers. That research project was the genesis of my former employer Open Text Corporation.
The article cites the obvious, it is easier to use the OED online than in printed form (the dictionary now weights more than 130 pounds).
I use www.dictionary.com nearly everyday (its easier to remember than Oxford’s www.oed.com). Before that, I used Webster’s Ninth Collegiate which was given to me as a high school graduation gift. In my first class as a college freshman at Ohio State, the English professor opened his lecture by challenging the entire class to annotate their dictionaries with words you didn’t know. Being anal retentive and an eager over-achiever, I embraced that recommendation and wrote codes and dates in the margin next to every word I ever looked up. It was later in life while working on legal discovery systems, that I learned the technical term for this is “marginalia“.
So my marginalia coding scheme was very simple — M stood for meaning and S for spelling — followed by the date. I annotated religiously the remainder of my college and beginning of my work career. Remember we’re talking the early 80’s before PC’s and spell check were common in the workplace. This strange habit provided amusement for my wife and workmates. When asked, “Why do you do that?”, it just inspired me to continue this strange habit.
The OED news caused me to peruse my old dictionary. I had trouble spelling the word “enamor” as I looked that up on three different times in 1994. My ideas couldn’t come to “fruition” because I looked up its meaning on May 23rd, 1990. I know (now) I can never remember when to use “affect” and “effect”, so I expected to see markups next to those terms but surprisingly found none. Evidently I made frequent “inadvertent” (looked up on Sept 17th, 1986 for spelling) errors using “affect” and “effect”. I looked up the word “alacrity” on May 23rd, 1990 for meaning – the same day as “fruition”. Hmmm. I still don’t know what that word means so I added a new entry for Aug 30th, 2010. You might also grin about the six-digit programmer’s date format I used.
Now fast forward to today and our emerging world of social networks. I don’t use my tattered dictionary any longer as www.dictionary.com is an easy mouse click away, and can be integrated to web applications in many ways. These folks have the mega annotation scheme – way better than my crude S for spelling and M for meaning scheme. Their social dictionary has insights gleaned from an entire community of users, instantaneously, in ways that can be monetized today, and with monetization potential they haven’t even thought of. Their insights should include trends around language usage, patterns, slang, and culture.
George Colony of Forrester recently commented about the next wave of the internet being application focused, not search focused. He is correct. Every traditional habit where we act individually will be replaced by a more powerful social application that will accomplish the same objective and much more. We already see this in our daily life. Photos are already shared more broadly in FlickR than in a dusty scrapbook; your iTunes music playlist for your July 4th picnic was influenced by the attendees, OpenTable helps you decide on a restaurant choice based on recommendations of others, and then makes your reservation. You will have control of all your home appliances from your smartphone. And in a business context, the next phase of automation will be realized, for example, when the oil pressure gauge on an airplane will schedule the next available mechanic and start contingency planning for the gate agents all without human intervention. We’ve only witnessed the beginning.