A selection from the original Archipelago Help Manual, September, 1988

What is Archipelago?

Archipelago is a social experiment, a system of interlocking HyperCard stacks which facilitates long term social interaction, a kind of electronic commune or correspondence club, a sophisticated information exchange, the journal of The Royal Society of Ponarvians, and any sea or sheet of water in which there are numerous islands. Actually, I'm not quite sure what it is; it's a little early yet to tell. The system described in this manual is an embryo; each one of us will influence its development, and what shape it will take in the years to come is anybody's guess.

Anyway, this is how it works: once every two weeks or so, each member of the group receives an identical packet of disks along with a pre-stamped return mailer. The disks contain the most recent contributions of all the other members; these can include programs, essays, artwork, documents, surveys, games, poetry, sound effects, fonts, stories, tutorials, letters, and reams of idle chit-chat. Some of this stuff is automatically transferred into a set of permanent, ever-growing stacks which each member maintains on his or her own hard disk.

As the member examines and interacts with these contributions, the system allows him to return the favor. One of the stacks included with each packet is titled "My Contributions." Initially, this stack is an empty shell, but as each session proceeds, the system coaxes him into creating new cards and these cards are automatically appended to the "My Contributions" stack.

New cards are created whenever a member pushes the respond button on a voice card, or changes his address in the member list, or whenever he pushes one of the Contribute buttons which appears throughout the Archipelago system. Each one of the permanent collection stacks makes it possible to create new cards (or modify existing ones) between sessions; these cards are stored and then, at the push of a button, transmitted to the "My Contributions" stack. The system also includes a program (the HyperEssay Construction Kit) which makes it possible (and easy) to create whole stacks without doing any programming whatsoever.

By the end of a session, the "My Contributions" stack will contain a wild assortment of cards from many different sources. After making sure that everything worth saving has been transferred to his hard disk, the member erases the "transit disk" that came in the mail and drags a copy of the "My Contributions" stack onto the disk. At this point he can also drag on any HyperEssay or Survey stacks he wants to share, along with any other Macintosh files (spreadsheets, paintings, word processing documents, desk accessory files, stacks, programs, etc.). He then stuffs the disk (or disks) into the return mailer and drops it in his mailbox.

Each packet migrates back to Canyon Creek. The editor (that's me) retrieves all incoming packets and feeds them into a nifty program called "The Harvester" which slices, dices, and assembles them into one unified package. He then makes a dozen copies, mails one back to each member, and the cycle repeats itself.

And that's all there is to it. My hope is that this process will become an almost effortless routine and that the waves of disks will come in and go out with the regular rhythms of an ocean. Over time we will accumulate a vast hoard of treasure and our shared experiences will be automatically documented and preserved.

I wish to emphasize that this project is an experiment and the initial set of stacks which comprise the system is only the first stage in what I hope will be a long evolution. Each component should be viewed as an example of one of many possible forms of interaction. Our first task as a group will be to improve the existing components and pioneer new ones.

What do we hope to accomplish?

I often describe Archipelago as a social experiment. But if this is an experiment, what are we testing and what do we hope to show? What are the origins of this project and where might it lead? Although I am the founder and editor of this society, my opinions in this matter are no more important than those of any other member. We are a society of equals and each of us will have a vital influence on the shape of things to come. But after nearly nine months of effort I feel very much like a mother delivering a new child into the world and so perhaps you will forgive me if I ponder these questions at the outset.

I began to feel a need for something like Archipelago when I was an undergraduate (about ten years ago). My friends and I toyed with the idea of starting a commune somewhere, and I studied records of past attempts like Brook Farm, but we were never really serious. Even to an idealistic sophomore the difficulties of maintaining a commune or ashram or whatever are obvious. It would require ample resources, discipline, and hard work, all of which are foreign to me.

My desire for a society did not abate, but grew stronger over the years. I was not alone in this. The desire for fellowship runs deep in us all; we are herd animals and we need a tribe to belong to. We need the things that come with tribes: shared experience, a sense of history and continuity, a harbour from storm, a chance to hear and a chance to to speak.

These things are ever harder to find in this twentieth century. There are fewer and fewer town squares to assemble in or fires to sing around. We live in self-sufficient compartments and work in cubicles and travel about in sealed boxes. We have become a race of nomads, moving from city to city, job to job. We have acquaintances and fellow workers, and many of us are lucky enough to have families, but real friends are hard to come by. Often we forge heart-to-heart friendships in our youth only to lose them over the years because we are too busy or too far away.

We are like galaxies expanding away from each other and our cosmos has become too large for us. Over the past ten years I have had the privilege and great joy of meeting and coming to know a dozen-or-so truly remarkable people. These are uncommon souls who astonish me with the soaring reach of their intellects and the strangeness of their private worlds. Some of these friends are passionate, and others are circumspect, but each of them feels unharnessed and muted from time to time, as do I. Our minds are wide open and flying, consuming movies and novels and songs, learning more than we can easily absorb. But the twentieth century is too large, too complex to listen to our reactions. Our ideas and dreams are bottled up. Our potential is enormous. We are teachers in search of a student, artists in search of an audience, solutions in search of a problem.

Many, many times my remarkable friends have expressed this frustration and as they turn away to resume their daily routines I feel as if diamonds are slipping through my fingers. If only there were a way to harness this hidden ocean of talent! I don't mean harness it to produce power or money necessarily; I just want to turn it into something I can see. I want to turn it loose and see where it goes. It has slowly dawned on me that this will never happen unless we seek each other out and work together. And that is what I hope to accomplish with Archipelago.

I see Archipelago as an electronic town square, a place we can meet at for a few hours each month to play and build and weave and share. I have purposely selected the old-fashioned process of mail as a means of communication because we need time to think. Modems would provide instant interaction, but to a large extent it is just this phenomenon of instant interaction that I am trying to combat. Our lives are already crowded with instant interactions and this is why our encounters with each other are so shallow and fleeting; I want to build, or rather grow, something that will last.

The Macintosh and HyperCard make it possible for us to reach out of our cubicles and form a tribe. Over time we can form our own customs and our own history. I have done everything within my power to encourage a sense of play and to make the business of communicating as easy as possible. It is no accident that the main screen of Archipelago looks like a monopoly board. Features like the archives and the permanent collection stacks are designed to provide continuity and long term structure. The voice cards create an open forum; there are no sealed envelopes in Archipelago. The goal is to provide a playground, an open stage, and a framework to build upon.

The success of our experiment is by no means assured. We are, after all, pioneering new forms of interaction. We come from different backgrounds and have different interests. It remains to be seen whether or not we can maintain the patience and tolerance necessary to form a ten way friendship. There have been a number of attempts around the country recently to form "renaissance teams;" it will be interesting to see if we can form such a team and carry a group project through to completion. Along the way we'll have to face increasing entropy and the friction of everyday distractions. Unless we develop a smooth rhythm, taking in the disks and sending them out again on schedule, confusion and apathy will set in.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic about this project. The initial ten members of our group bring with them a mind-boggling range of talents and interests. I honestly do not know what will happen when we bring these talents together for the first time, but I am convinced that the mix will prove interesting. We are starting what I hope will be a forty year conversation; the dreams we spin in the course of that conversation, and the conversation itself, will remain after all of us are gone. We hope to accomplish the creation of a community, and I honestly feel that whatever we do together will stand as a source of delight and instruction for those who follow.

The Royal Society of Ponarvians

A ponarv is a Project of No Apparent Redeeming Value.

Archipelago is itself a ponarv. Designing and coding and debugging the stacks which make up the framework of Archipelago was a massive project that I pursued with all the irrational passion of a hungry child. It is silly and playful and absurd and I will be astonished if I see a penny's worth of profit. By the cold, utilitarian standards of the anti-ponarvians, it is of no apparent redeeming value. But in my eyes, even if our experiment fizzles, archipelago has a value beyond all measure.

Together we comprise the Royal Society of Ponarvians. This opening issue of archipelago is our first meeting. Each member of the group is a true ponarvian, and concealed in the breast of each member is a ponarv so bizarre, so absurd, so beautiful, that it cannot remain hidden from the world much longer. I know this will come as news to some of you who doubt your own abilities and have let yourself be beaten down by the anti-ponarvians, but let me assure you: I know fellow-ponarvians when I see them.

Because we are all ponarvians who by definition revel in ambiguity, our society will probably remain somewhat ambiguous. I do not foresee elaborate ceremonies, strict oaths, secret handshakes, or funny hats. I propose simply that we stand united against the small-minded efforts of the anti-ponarvians, that we do everything we can to encourage the ponarvs of our members, and that when those ponarvs emerge we treat them with respect. Perhaps, as our symbol, we should adopt the image of a grasshopper with fiddle in hand, and as our motto and battle cry the single word: Eureka!